The continued reports about sexual harassment of patients by health workers in some parts of the country is attracting the attention of key stakeholders.
This is a worrisome development as Medical Council of Malawi representatives have since emphasized that sexually harassing patients is unethical as it violates patients’ rights.
Recent media reports have exposed health workers that sexually abused patients at health facilities.
In one case, a health worker sexually abused a patient in an X-ray room in Chikwawa District while other patients waited on the queue to access health services.
In Dowa District, a male health worker was reported to have sexually assaulted pregnant women during antenatal examinations.
Health activists have said the issue is not as small as others would imply and it needs to be tackled holistically.
Health and Rights Education Programme Executive Director, Maziko Matemba told Daily Times that sexual harassment at health facilities usually happens to female patients.
“There is need for the public [especially female patients] to be sensitised on these issues to avoid falling victims. The good thing is that Medical Council[of Malawi] has a clear guideline on sexual harassment at health facilities with serious penalties to the offenders,” he said.
Executive Director for Patients and Community Welfare Foundation of Malawi (Pawem) Amade Alide said the organisation has had four health workers dismissed after some patients reported to have been sexually abused.
“I am aware of some Medical Council [of Malawi] standing order(s) of ethics that a technical service provider should not interact (or conduct intimate examinations) with a patient s/ he has seen for a period of one year. If this happens, it is deemed abuse of patients’ rights. If such is reported to the medical council the service provider would be discharged from their duties. But this is happening in silence,” he said.
Alide revealed that his organisation received many cases in 2015 and has done several interventions to sensitise people on their rights.
“The unfortunate thing is that the patients report such cases indirectly to us and seem not to have the freedom to open up when the matter is being pursued…Some choose to be anonymous,” he said.
Inspections Officer at Medical Council of Malawi, Cliffton Gondwe, said the council has been receiving complaints from the public regarding sexual abuse at health facilities.
“The Council has been receiving such reports and is currently investigating one more case. Stiff penalties are being given to the culprits. We encourage the public to report instantly to us should they have such encounters,” he said.
According to Gondwe, the council has withdrawn 10 licences in the last 12 months on various malpractices, including sexual harassment.
The council recently published a statement highlighting the need to use a Chaperone during intimate examinations in the wake of increased cases of sexual harassment cases at health facilities.
The Council said Chaperone is a person of the same gender as patient who is present when a doctor examines a patient usually for intimate examinations who are of the opposite sex to the doctor.
This ensures that the doctor concerned is not falsely accused of impropriety towards the patient.
The Medical Council of Malawi statement also highlights that should the patient decline the use of Chaperone it should be recorded in the’ notes.
Ministry of Health Spokesperson, Joshua Malango said the ministry takes any case of sexual harassment seriously and the administrators of facilities ensure that action is taken immediately the issue has been reported.
“Chaperones are encouraged to be used at all our health facilities, especially when it’s a male health worker examining a female patient. Through our Quality Assurance Directorate, we are having an ombudsman desk number at each facility to handle any complaints that may arise (at the facility),” he said.
Malango said the public should also utilize the existence of Health Advisory Committee which comprises of traditional leaders, police, Church leaders and facility Ombudsman.
The facility Ombudsman, he said, handles such complaints and directs people on where complaints could be lodged and handled.