Editorial Comment: Health minister should not grandstand

Editorial Comment

BARELY four days after Mashonaland West province raised an SOS on the shortage of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), Health minister Obadiah Moyo had the temerity to tell the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on HIV and Aids that the country had adequate supplies of ARVs stocked up at National Pharmaceutical Company (NatPharm) to last until the first quarter of 2020.

This is despite reports that integrated TB and HIV centres in some parts of the country were struggling for supplies of Ab a-lam, with others dispensing expired life-saving drugs as a stop-gap measure.

That the country has a perennial shortage of the precious lifesaving drugs is not a secret and neither is the fact that NatPharm is mired in distribution challenges which have seen some drugs expiring before reaching their intended beneficiaries.

Moyo’s claims are shallow considering the fact that supply of the medicines is still dependent on foreign aid through the Global Fund.

For years, the government has relied heavily on foreign aid, a situation which puts patients in a precarious position should the donors decide to pull the plug and stop their funding.

A recent fact-finding tour of NatPharm by the parliamentary committee revealed that the warehouse was still dependent on donor supplies for its stocks.

People’s lives are on the line and it defies all logic that a whole minister, who claims to be the custodian of the Health ministry, will embark on cheap politicking to save his face. It makes a whole lot of sense to be honest and report facts as they are. Hiding behind a façade will not alleviate the sad situation.

A top United Nations official on Monday said about 1,1 million people living with HIV were struggling to access anti-retroviral medication in the Cyclone Idai-distressed countries, which include Zimbabwe.

In essence, it means Zimbabwe has a bigger challenge, which is being compounded by officials who “cook up” figures and facts so they might appear like they are working hard.

Maybe the minister needs to be reminded that the million-plus lives that depend on ARVs are hanging in the balance as he goes around presenting a perfect scenario when on the ground, nothing has really changed.

We understand his pressure to outdo his predecessors, but at what cost? Wouldn’t it be better to raise the red flag and get help than pretend it is all under control when clearly it is not. His ministry is going to the dogs with serious health disasters looming at every corner.

Moyo is a likeable character, no doubt, but real commitment backed by real resources and action is what the people of Zimbabwe expect of the good minister. Let us promptly sort out the drug situation before embarking on ambitious programmes of turning public health facilities into state-of-the-art hospitals with empty drug shelves.

2 Comments

  1. Confirms the observation by one Brian Sedze, that this country lacks ideas and creative minds – putting lipstick on a crocodile

  2. Watseni waMaungwe

    I think the minister of health is in for a rude awakening, MoHCC challenges are beyond what he have seen and addressed at Chitungwiza General Hospital. He has to go beyond rolling up sleeves, maybe to wearing vests.

    It is true that our medical sector, public that is, depends on donors call themselves development partners. However,not taking away whatever they are doing, these development partners have become a source of these challenges the sector is facing. Our situation is just but bad as follows:

    i. The said development partners can not put money directly into government pockets, they are pulling their resource into the Health Development Fund which is administered by other agencies, at a fee, of cause. The monies are channeled to various organizations which they call sub-recipients and leakages are massive. Procurement is also tasked to other organisation allowing inflating of prices.

    ii. They are staffers in the structures of MoHCC who are on these agencies’ payroll. These staffers really know who butters their bread and they dictate the pace in the corridors of power within MoHCC.

    iii. Doctoring of figures and researches is rampant within the ministry. Most decisions are based on figures and research finding BUT the involvement of some agencies and their salaried staffers employed at MoHCC in recruitment of consultancy makes findings of the researches loop sided and subjective. In essence, agencies and their officers within MoHCC collude to doctor findings and present manipulated evidence for MoHCC management to decide on critical health issues.

    An example is the change of drugs distribution system – the country used to distribute medicines through DTTU and some other agency piloted a distribution model called ZAPS in Manicaland. the ZAPS had a host of challenges and failures which a grade zero pupil can note, but it went on to be adopted replacing DTTU. And now we have great stock outs.

    We may want to blame NatPharm for failure to deliver, their hands are tied they have to distribute medicines via ZAPS model until someone in the ministry tell them otherwise. However, the one who can tell NatPharm otherwise may not be there because he has to bring in money to fund the distribution model they would want to implement.

    Besides procurement of medicines, storage and the distribution is also controlled and paid for by development partners and these partners a situation which just mess everything up. Until and unless government start reasonable procurement and meaningful input in the distribution of medicines, the Minister is just but a complaining passenger.

    iv. Development partners are also paying health workers an allowance since around 2007/8 thereabout. Simple reasoning will tell you the allegiance of the workers.

    Indeed we must STOP the lie shout about state-of the art and address the shelves first an stop the India pilgrimage. We must also address or nip in the bud the skills gap, competencies in our health delivery system and service provider attitude before it is too late.

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