A tale of two health care systems

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Dorothy N'goma is Executive Director of the National Organization of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi. She is an Oxfam champion and is travelling around Europe to raise awareness of the need for more and better aid to support Malawi to improve health services for mothers, children and families living in poverty. In her blog she reflects on her experiences in Europe and from home.

This week I’ve had the chance to visit several hospitals in Germany, and it strikes me that the health care system here is one of the best in the world. I’m sure it’s not that easy to just die from common ailments, but that’s what we see in Malawi every day. I’m envious, especially with the numbers of doctors and nurses patrolling the corridors. In Germany there is 1 doctor for every 200 people while in Malawi there is 1 doctor per 65,000 people. I feel like asking half the doctors I see to come and help out in Malawi.

Whenever I visit Europe I’m always surprised, as people always want to question me about the value of aid. For me, there is no doubt that aid is making a difference to Malawi. For instance, money from the Global Fund has saved millions of lives, helping people to get treatments for illnesses like tuberculosis and malaria. This money has also meant more children have been vaccinated against measles and polio. Child mortality rates have reduced by almost half.

Also, thanks to this money the numbers of skilled health workers emigrating from Malawi to work in rich countries has decreased and the numbers being trained has doubled. In a country where 16 women die every day due to problems related to pregnancy and delivery, one of the highest numbers in the world, this extra money saves lives.

However, there are still lots of problems in the rural areas where much more needs to be done. I’ve visited nurses working alone and taking care of 80 to over 100 patients on shifts lasting up to 16 hours. This is too much and makes it impossible to give people quality care.

During my visit to Germany I’ve been part of passionate debates as people urge their politicians to do more to keep their promises on aid. The politicians think that the German public may not support the idea because of the current economic crisis, but I’ve been meeting civil society organizations who are confident that the public is willing to support the campaign for more aid.

I’ve seen what a huge difference aid can make to a country’s health system. I urge everyone to carry on campaigning and lobbying to let the politicians and the public know what a difference aid is making to the lives of people in countries like Malawi.

I hope that my country one day has as many trained health workers as Germany, and if we had some of the technology that is available here, I would be very happy. Tomorrow I will fly to Italy, and I’m really looking forward to meeting more civil society groups and supporting their campaign in the lead up to the Italian G8 summit.