Monday, October 29, 2007

Cancer patient dead in SA

Cancer patient Mphatso Mhango, who government recently sent to South Africa for further treatment
died before undergo the operation in that country, a Family member has confirmed.

Mhango left the country for South Africa on October 21, 2007 and died two days later.

A family member Vilunjike Manda said Mhango passed when she was given blood at it was discovered
that she had no sufficient blood for the her to survive the operation.

“She died when she was waiting for the operation. Doctors said the tumor had gone dip into the
brain and she would need alot of blood if they would operate on her,” he said.

Manda said the problem was aggravated because of the delay removing the tumor.

Mhango waited for almost three months for government to locate a doctor in South Africa to operate
on her, after a Referral Committee had already recommended for her referral.

Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), where the patient was admitted had to sent her home
because would not continue keeping her at the hospital when she was supposed to be in South

Mhango was referred to QECH from Mzuzu hospital, three months ago where doctors at QECH also
referred her to outside the country for further treatment, however two months down the line the
patient was still in the country.

Minister of Health Marjorie Ngaunje said every Malawian has got a right to treatment and
there was not special treatment for VIPs when it come to referring people to outside the country

Poor preps botched MSCE exams

…leakages come about due to fewer papers printed
By Rex Chikoko
The 2007 Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations fiasco was caused by Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) poor preparations. Malawi News has established.

This years MSCE examination, costing a whopping K218 million of the tax-payers money—was total chaotic with examination papers flying all over the country before the date for writing the papers were due, candidates writing photocopied examinations, while others being quarantined waiting for examinations papers while examinations were in progress.

Malawi News investigations revealed that Maneb made several preparatory mistakes ranging from changing examinations printing companies, ordering fewer examinations papers to late delivery of examinations to the centres.

A South African based company Universal Printers—specialised in production of point-of-sale items, signage, cartons, magazines, telephone directories, direct mail products, self-adhesive and unsupported labels—won the contract to print MSCE examinations out-favouring a UK based company Stephen Austin & Sons, specialists in production and distribution services for examination and Assessment Authorities worldwide.

Stephen Austin & Sons have been printing examinations for the Malawi in the past.

In a specified tendering, opened in January this year, four foreign companies’ submitted tenders to print the 2007 examinations. The companies included Stephen Austin & Sons, Kadimah, Universal Printers and Government Printers. Apart from Stephen Austin & Sons all the companies were South African based.

According to Malawi News’ highly placed source at Maneb, despite Stephen Austin & Sons emerging the winner of the tender, South African printing companies won the printing of MSCE and Junior Certificate Examinations.

In August 2007 high powered officials left the country for South Africa for final monitoring of examinations where it was reported that everything was going as planned.

However a hitch came about when the printers would not deliver examinations in the required seven days before the commerce of the examinations and late discovery that fewer papers were printed against the registered number of this year’s candidates.

Universal Print Group Export Business Development Manager Neville Gurriah, in an email response, said the Supply Agreement with Maneb, due to the confidential nature of the scope of work undertaken - precludes the organisation from communicating with any third parties on any matter.

“We trust that you will understand our position,” Girriah said.

MSCE examinations arrived in the country between October 6 – 8, 2007 a day before the official commencement of the examinations on the October 9, 2007 leaving Maneb with less that 24 hours to inspect, verify and distribute the examination national wide.

Surprisingly in the finance budget of the 2007 finance budget report –appendix 11 under Printing Expenses vote number 630, Maneb set aside K66, 171, 734 as printing costs which included K20, 428,424 for Air Freight, but this years examinations came into the by road.

“The packaging was poorly done because at Police Headquarters in Lilongwe where they offloaded the examinations they discovered that plastic papers they used to wrap containing examination envelops busted.

“Normally examinations are expected to come in a well sealed cartons but it was not the case with MSCE. The examinations were sealed in plastic wrappings,” said the source.

The source said it was discovered that close to 89,000 papers of the 2007 MSCE examinations were printed despite registering about 101,000 candidates for the same examinations.

The discovery of paper shortage resulted to the authorization of photocopying of the examinations and the activity was being carried out in the Manuscript Section of Maneb office.

However the problem soared when the machine in the Manuscript section broken down and the photocopying of the examinations was transferred to Malawi Institute of Education (MIE) offices in Domasi, Zomba.

An official at Domasi on condition anonymity confirmed that on Wednesday October 17, 2007 Maneb officials sought the services of the printing office but he could not elaborate.

Despite Maneb authorities discrediting the leaked eaminations papers as bogus several arrests were made however the police said they were not really involved on the arrests and they would be waiting for a report from Maneb on what transpired.

Police headquarters spokesperson Willie Mwaluka said although several arrests have been made involving the 2007 MSCE examinations, the police had no information because the police involved in the arrests were hired by Maneb.

“Those officers were officially hired by Maneb and anything to do with examinations is handled by Maneb officials. We will be waiting for official report on how many were arrested after the examinations,” Mwaluka said.

But through regional and district police public relations offices Malawi News established that three people were arrested at Soche Technical cluster centre, two people were arrested in Machinga, three people were arrested in the central region while at a Maneb official caught the whole class Natola CDSS going through examinations papers at night and two were arrested in Chitipa at least one person was arrested.

Soche Technical cluster centre Blantyre Secondary School, Chichiri Secondary School and Likangala Secondary school were some of the centres where quarantine due to shortage of papers was taking place on daily basis. In these schools photocopied examinations were being provided to cover up for the shortage.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Proroguing and Muluzi's elligibility Sam Mpasu says:

The United Democratic Front (UDF), has recently been in the news over the eligibility of its National Chairman Bakili Muluzi to contest in the forth-coming general elections. The party also took a swipe at President Bingu wa Mutharika's controversial proroguing of parliament. Our Reporter Rex Chikoko met UDF spokesperson Sam Mpasu and sought the party's position on a number of issues. Excerpts:

Some concerned citizens intend to take the issue of Bakili Muluzi's eligibility to contest the 2009 presidential elections to court, as a party what is your stand on the issue?

We, in the UDF, are very surprised that matters that are internal to UDF are attracting so much attention outside the UDF. I can assure you that Mr Ben Phiri and his company have absolutely nothing to do with the UDF. We have been solving our problems and the party has been in existence for over 15 years now. Naturally the UDF is a Malawi party so whatever would happen to UDF, many of its members in the UDF would be affected, but what I can assure you is that we have a [Republican] Constitution that clearly demarcates lines of responsibility and the judiciary in this country is responsible for the interpretation of the law. I may have my own view and everybody else might have his own views. It does not matter, what matters is what the judiciary says.

In the interest of UDF followers was it not necessary for the party to come up with a final position on this issue?

This issue is coming, apparently, just because our National Chairman Dr Bakili Muluzi has got his name mentioned by some people within the party urging him to go and stand for the presidential candidature elections at the forth coming UDF convention. And we are saying, according to our constitution, anyone who wants to contest for the position of the president, is free to do so but there are procedures to be followed, first you should submit one's name to the National Executive on a proper nomination form for the National Executive to vet, in other words for them to certify that you are indeed a bonafide member of the UDF and it is the National Executive Committee that will forward that name to the convention. It is the convention that elects the presidential candidate so right now I do not understand why everyone is foaming and threatening, we have not yet gone to the convention and people are talking about courts and so forth, this is crazy.

You mentioned the convention, when is the party holding one?

We planned to have the convention in April last year, naturally nothing worked, we had our problems. The then Acting National Chairman Dr. Cassim Chilumpha was charged with treason and we had a lot of other problems, so we postponed. There is a working committee now which is still looking at the convention issue, they have made tentative recommendations that the convention should be held on 16 November [this year] but their recommendations have not been discussed by the National Executive Committee to either approve or modify.

As we are going towards the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections, what is the UDF strategy?

I cannot tell you the strategy now, we will come up with a strategy. Much of it will be in secret and confidential. Our programme will come out in our manifesto document which will be a public document.

There is a belief that some people who were expected to contest against Muluzi in UDF are working with Concerned Citizen to take the matter of Muluzi’s eligibility to court. What is the position of the party?

Anyone who is giving out the impression that UDF is divided, that some UDF people are working with bodies outside the UDF is talking nonsense. It is a cheap trick to divide the UDF and it cannot work. We are totally capable of solving our own problems if there are problems.

It has been noticed that Muluzi is frequenting his visits to the United Kingdom, some people say he is going there to meet possible financiers of UDF, how would you explain these two issues?

Dr. Muluzi, like every Malawians, is perfectly entitled to go wherever he wants to go, to take a holiday whenever he wants and to have friends wherever he has. I do not think this is a matter for political speculations or political insinuations, he makes private trips when he wants to. I do not think anybody has got a moral right to ask why does he do this.

There is a belief that UDF as a party has got no money and it is Muluzi who has got money and it is also said Muluzi is financing MCP president John Tembo, would you please enlighten us the position of party finances and Muluzi's relationship with Tembo?

Why don’t you talk, in those terms, about 30 something political parties that we have in the country? Why should UDF always be connected to money, money money. Everyone knows that UDF, like any other party, in parliament, gets a lot of money from parliament, from the state. Is that money coming from Dr. Muluzi's pockets? Regarding financing of MCP that is utter nonsense, there is no reason Dr. Muluzi, either as an individual or a party leader, would give money to another political party. I have heard about this, not only about Dr. Muluzi but a lot others. It is wrong. There is no way the UDF would give money to others, we have got our own needs, we got district, regional, secretariat offices to run, we do not have money to spare for others. This is mere speculation, MCP gets money from parliament, it is the largest party in parliament why would they need any money from UDF?

Is there a departure in the relationship between the UDF and MCP as evident in the way the two parties have handled the issue of proroguing of parliament? UDF has taken the matter to court while MCP said would rather leave the Speaker to handle the issue.

I do not think you should read too much into this. UDF and MCP are not the only parties in opposition, there are several other parties in the opposition and we do not always work as coalition partners, we are not one party, we are different parties, so it is natural that we have different solutions to a problem, we have chosen to go to the court because we think President Mutharika abused his constitutional prerogative, he did not consult the speaker.

As a former speaker, how different would you have handled the issue of proroguing of parliament? or where do you think the president got it wrong?

The president got it wrong, he should have known the meaning of prorogue. Apparently he did not know, because if he had known , he would have known that he is ending the entire session of parliament, he should have, if he wanted, consulted the speaker, and the speaker has got legal resources and he would have been properly advised. The effect of proroguing is that the whole session has been brought to an end. And had he consulted the Minister of Finance what was at stake, Honorable Goodall Gondwe would have, certainly, advised him against proroguing on the day he did.

The president has called upon the speaker to resign following the issue surrounding Malawi-Mozambique electricity connection bill, what is the position of the UDF on the issue?

The president is trying to push the blame to the speaker and it is unfair. This is what he did with Ishmail Wadi and Gustave Kaliwo. There isn't anyway Speaker [Louis] Chimango and Clerk of Parliament [Maltida] Katopola could have prepared those presidential documents on their own, forwarded them to the president Mutharika and Mutharika signing those documents without realizing the full legal implications. What I believe has happened is that the President has realized that he has put himself in a very very embarrassing situation, he is a party to a fraud. To pretend that a law was passed is a big smudge on the government’s integrity. The World Bank is a very important lender all over the world and no government has ever- ever attempted to commit a fraud on them, and had this gone, this country would have been in terrible, unimaginable situation. And I have a feeling the President intends to set up Chimango as a scapegoat to save his face.

There is a general feeling that the political situation in the country would retard development and that sometimes the President is forced to make those decisions because of the political situation in the country, what is your take?

You do not commit a crime, you do not commit fraud because there is political bickering, it is just not on, here is a President who was duly elected and sworn in, he swore to protect the constitution. He has no excuse for violating the constitution. He has, not only moral, but constitution authority, to uphold the laws of this country. So there is excuse for him, political problems have to be solved politically and he must know how to solve them.

Thanks for the interview, is there anything you would wish to discuss?

I do appreciate that a number of Malawians and a large number of your reader are interested in what is happening in UDF, We do appreciate that, but we do have interests to protect so we do urge the press to assist as in disseminating the truth, not speculations. We have spokesperson, we have officials channels and we are ready to answer any question.

Hospital send patient home

..Government still looking for a specialist in SA—Ngaunje
By Rex Chikoko
Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), a referral hospital in Blantyre Malawi, has discharged a patient, suffering from a cancer, despite the referral committee of Ministry of Health recommended that she should sent to South Africa for further treatment.

The patient, Mphatso Mhango, was referred to QECH from Mzuzu hospital, three months ago where doctors at QECH also referred her to outside the country for further treatment, however two months down the line the patient is still in the country.

One of Mhango's relatives,Vilunjike Manda, said it was surprising that government was failing to facilitate the transportation of the patient despite the referral committee's recommendation after assessing the gravity of the situation.

“Nobody is telling us what is happening and to make matters worse the patient has been discharged without telling us the way forward,” he said.

Manda said he has been taking up the matter with the hospital authorities but they have been directing him to ministry’s head quarter.

“We were told that it was a benign tumor which if operated on quickly the patient will get work, however the case has been worsening while the patient was in hospital.

“We do not know the idea behind discharging the patient when she was supposed to be going to South Africa for treatment,” he said.

A Member of the Referral Committee Dr. Mathias Joshua, who was also the Acting Hospital director at the time the decision was made said government is trying to identify a doctor who would attend to the patient when she went to South Africa.

“We are currently looking for a doctor in South Africa who would to the operation, once the doctor has been identified she is going to be sent for operation,” he said.

However, Dr Joshua would not tell how long it would take to identify a doctor based on the urgency of the matter saying: “The process of sending her to South Africa has started and someone is looking for a doctor.”

Minister of Health Marjorie Ngaunje said much as she was not aware of that particular case she said the process of sending a person outside the country further treatment takes time.

She said there is a government agent in South Africa who search for doctor when a referral case is forwarded to him and that the patient can only leave the country when the doctor has been identified.

“It is not easy to find a specialist in South Africa, there are a lot people who are waiting to be sent for further treatment,” she said.

Ngaunje said every Malawian has got a right to treatment and there was not special treatment for VIPs when it come to referring people to outside the country hospitals.

“Human dignity is supreme in sickness and there are no VIPs when it comes to sending people outside the country for treatment,” she said.

Concerns have been raised that government favours government dignitaries when it comes to referring people for outside treatment despite that those people are financially capable to seek treatment else where.

Referral Committee was established to be recommending patient, mostly those who would not afford to pay for their treatment, to outside hospitals.

It has been observed that government dignitaries, when they are sick, are quickly send to outside the country's hospitals even if the ailment would be treated locally.

Monday, October 1, 2007

HIV vaccine trial fails

HIV vaccine trial, which was being conducted worldwide including Malawi, has been halted after Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB), the body that was responsible for the monitoring the progress of the project, discovered that the vaccine was not effective. John Hopkins Project, an institution responsible for the project in Malawi confirmed.

John Hopkins Project Director Dr Newton Kumwenda said DSMB met on September 18, 2007 to review results of the interim efficacy analysis they concluded that the study will not meet its efficacy objectives and recommended that trial being stopped.

On a report posted on September 21,2007 on Merck website—A United States of America pharmaceutical company that was producing the vaccine— announced that the vaccine did not meet its objective and failed to prevent infection.
However, Dr Kumwenda said the latest findings of the vaccine efficacy failure would not affect Malawi participants as the institution did not enroll new volunteers for more than 2 years.

About eight Malawians were injected with a vaccine, HVTN 050, Merck V20-018 vaccine—that contains three HIV genes—in a Phase I, whose objective was to establish the safety and immunogenecity of the vaccine.

“The HIV Vaccine trial being conducted in Malawi is a Phase I safety and immunogenecity trial. The HIV vaccine candidates although similar, the two trials are different.

“Although the data for this finding is specifically from the STEP V520-023 trial , all study sites involved in similar Merck/HVTN vaccine program are advised to cease administering trial vaccine but to continue all other study follow-up procedures,” he said.

JHP spokesperson Fatima Zulu said the organization will continue monitoring the health of the eight Malawian participants as per agreements until the time that was agreed upon expires.
“We will continue monitoring them because we know that some of the side effects would take a long time to come out,” she said.

On Merck website, however, the company indicated that volunteers who had received at least two vaccinations and who were HIV negative for at least the first 12 weeks of the trial, 19 cases of HIV infection were observed in the 672 volunteers who received vaccine and 11 cases were observed in the 691 volunteers who received placebo. 

"In addition, the vaccine did not reduce the amount of virus in the bloodstream of those who became infected; HIV RNA levels approximately 8 to 12 weeks after diagnosis of infection were similar in the vaccine and the placebo arms.  The geometric means of the HIV RNA levels in the blood of infected individuals, the standard measure of ongoing HIV replication, were approximately 40,000 copies/mL in the vaccine group and approximately 37,000 copies/mL in the placebo group,” the website said.

Merck & Co., Inc. is a global research-driven pharmaceutical company dedicated to putting patients first.  Established in 1891, Merck currently discovers, develops, manufactures and markets vaccines and medicines to address unmet medical needs. 
The Company devotes extensive efforts to increase access to medicines through far-reaching programs that not only donate Merck medicines but help deliver them to the people who need them.  Merck also publishes unbiased health information as a not-for-profit service

Malawi stand to lose World Bank loan

Malawi stand to lose the World Bank loan on the Malawi-Mozambique Connector project if President Bingu wa Mutharika will not call for parliament within the 17 days , the remaining period of the 90 days of the Bank's approval on the said loan.

The Bank approved US$ 48 million for the Malawi-Mozambique Connector project on July, 17, 2007 and the 90 days period is likely to end on October 16, 2007.

The Mozambique-Malawi Transmission Interconnection Project, the second phase of the Southern African Power Market Program, will connect Malawi to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), allowing two-way energy trade between the two countries. Information obtained on the World Bank website indicated that the project would ensure much-needed diversification in Malawi’s electricity supply and allow the export of any off-peak power surpluses saying it will also provide Mozambique’s energy sector with a new revenue source.

However, President Bingu wa Mutharika, on September 14, 2007, invoked Section 59 (1b) of the country’s constitution that empowers him, in consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly, to prorogue parliament which was expected to deliberate and pass the bill.

Mutharika justified his action saying the opposition Members of Parliament were refusing to deliberate some important bills opting for the implementation of Section 65 of the constitution. He also accused members of parliament of spending K310 million in the four months they have been meeting.

World Bank's official Janique Racine for Africa Region responding to Malawi News questionnaire said following the prorogue of parliament the project cannot become effective and the Bank cannot release funds as yet.

Racine said as part of Government clearance process, legal agreements may have to be ratified by a country's legislature and certified that the agreements are legally binding on the state.

“The bottom line is funds cannot be released before all the conditions of effectiveness are met and country processes are completed, which is normally expected to be within 90 days of Board approval.

“The executive branch of government took it to Parliament for authorization. We have seen that Parliament has not yet approved because the Parliament session which could have done so was prorogued. This means the project cannot become effective and the Bank cannot release funds as yet.” she said.

She said once parliament authorizes the agreements and a legal opinion is received by the Bank certifying that the agreements are binding on the state, a ceremony will be organized to sign the funding agreement.

“For example in Malawi an Authorisation Bill is passed by Parliament. This country process may last up to several months.This process must be satisfactorily completed along with any other conditions of effectiveness, before the loan or credit is declared effective, and ready for disbursement.” she said.

Racine said she would not tell what would happen after the elapse of the 90 days because; "Usually it happens within the 90 days, maybe the country might ask for an extension.”

Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe said the proroguing of parliament would delay the implementation project that would also affect the provision of electricity.

Gondwe said failure to authorise the bill affect the implementation of the project but was quick to say that there was nothing government would have done.

“We will just wait and see. It is the opposition that rejected to discuss the bills. Of course this will delay the implementation of the projects,” he said.

Gondwe said the bill would be put forward for the next sitting of parliament which he said he did not know when next seating was expected to be called.

Former Finance Minister Friday Jumbe, who is also UDF spokesperson on finance matters, said government shot itself on the foot when it prorogued parliament before money bills were authorized.

Jumbe cited electricity interconnection and improvement of water supply as some areas that would suffer because of the decision to prorogue parliament.

“The issue might not have an impact right now but they will affect the other budgets to come. Government is delaying itself in implementing these projects,” he said.

Legal Affairs Committee of parliament wrote the World Bank on September 20, 2007 asking it not to recognise bill number 8, purportedly urguing that president Mutharika signed for the bill before parliament passed it.

Racine confirmed the Bank receiving the letter from Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament but said they would not act upon it because the Country Manager Timothy Gilbo was not in the country.

An economist at Polytechnic, University of Malawi constituent college, Abel Mwanyungwa said by proroguing parliament it meant government would not be able to borrow money from international organizations and government.

“If government is to go ahead to implement the said projects that would mean government has to borrow money locally and unfortunately this will mean the increase in inflation and definitely going back where we are coming from,” he said.

At the time of proroguing 39th session of parliament eight bills were on the order paper. Other bills that has also been affected due to the prorogue of the houses included Bill 14 on security, Bill 17 on national registration, Bill 15, Penal Code amendment, Bill 16 on police Bill 4 and Bill 13 on constitution amendment and also local government election amendment bill.

Parliament was also expected to discuss the appropriation of Value Added Tax bill and Taxation amendment as well as confirmation of the Auditor General and Chief Justice

Solicitor General Anthony Kamanga said there was nothing that would be done apart from waiting for the bills to be re-presented in the next seating of parliament.

“Some of the bills are not new, they were formulated last year so they would be presented at any time,” he said.

However Malawi Watch Executive Director Billy Banda called upon government to recall parliament stating that there were a number of important bills that needed the attention of the house other that Section 65.

“Section 65 can be handled whether parliament is in session or not but there are other necessary issues that need disposed urgently,” he said.

Banda cited the impending approval of the Chief Justice and Auditor General and the appropriation of the taxation bills.

“Government business has to be finalized,” he said.

The 39th session has been characterized by adjournment including a one month mourning period of the demise First Lady Madame Ethel Mutharika and the disagreement on the priorities on what was to start between passing of the national budget and the declaration of seats vacant of members of parliament that were deemed to have crossed the floor following a June 15, 2007 Supreme Court Appeal a landmark ruling on Section 65.