Cyclone Freddy: Tales from QECH

Cyclone Freddy survivor in hospital
  • I carried 44 dead children into the hospital-Dr Langton

  •  Chakwera has two words for health workers at QECH

Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), a referral facility in Southern Malawi is already overwhelmed by patients from Blantyre which has no district hospital.

But from the wee hours of Monday March 14, the hospital experienced a sudden surge in the number of people requiring hospitalisation and outpatient treatment. The hospital’s morgue was also swamped by the number of dead bodies being brought in.

Such was the impact of the Cyclone Freddy on a health system already crippled by lack of health personnel, medical drugs, equipment; problems that are compounded by erratic electricity and water supply.

“The hospital has been a beehive of activity, we attended to 94 children that were injured and were admitted, 34 more remain in hospital, 57 children were brought in dead and [five are in the high dependency unit and one of the children has no parents].

“It was a bad day for staff because this has never happened and it was traumatizing to the staff.  But it was even more traumatising to the kids who were looking for their fathers and mothers who had died. The mothers were also looking for their children who sadly had died,” says the hospital director Dr Samson Mndolo.

Dr Langton
Dr Langton: I carried 44 dead children into the hospital.

Dr Joe Langton an emergency children's medicine consultant at QECH has never seen such tragedy.

Ndinabwera ku Malawi kale kale [I've been in Malawi for a long time]. Ndine dokotala wa ana wa emergency. I can honestly say that In all my years as a specialist in emergency medicine consultant, this is the most horrific thing that I have ever seen.

“I personally carried 44 dead children into this hospital. We have had many parents looking for their children and they are not here. We’ve had children coming here without guardians. It is the most distressing thing. What I can say is that we saved 53 children. We categorically did the best we could do everybody came together.

“We didn’t have enough resources to manage this. We never have enough resources. I know that you know that your excellency [President Lazarus Chakwera]. We didn’t have the equipment and resources to deliver care. On that day, we had no water. I was washing my hands in puddles outside after carrying dead children. We had no power, it was on and off and we did the best we could. I can not be more proud to work in this facility or in this country,” said an emotional Dr Langton.

The medical staff served the wounded and broken with a level of dedication that left Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera on a visit to the hospital on Thursday lost for words.

The President cheering survicors of Cyclone Freddy at Queens in Blantyre. Photos by Abel Ikiloni, Mana)
The President cheering survicors of Cyclone Freddy at Queens in Blantyre. Photos by Abel Ikiloni, Mana)

“All I can say is zikomo kwambiri [thank you very much] for serving beyond the call of duty. The situation could have been worse,” he told some of the health personnel who had spared a minute to meet him before they could dash back to help even more of the sick, teeming along the hospital’s corridors.

The smile on most of the health care workers' faces as Chakwera said zikomo, said it all. Sometimes people just need to appreciated, they just want that pat on the back and a word of encouragement.

The president is briefed by the hospital administrator
Chakwera is briefed by the hospital administrator.

Chakwera visited the children’s accident ward, the emergency and the female wards.

The storm tore through Southern Africa over the weekend for a second time after first making landfall in late February. It is one of the longest-lasting tropical cyclones ever recorded, and one of the deadliest in Africa in recent years.

Malawi has reported 225 dead so far, with hundreds more injured and some still missing.

Chakwera has called for 14 days of mourning for the victims and the government has pledged $1.5m in assistance even as more than 20,000 households have been displaced by the mudslides and flooding.