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Gov’t cancels RSA referrals, saves P300 million

The Government through Ministry of Health and Wellness’s bold decision to stop referring patients to South Africa and Indian private hospitals will save government P300 million on annual bases, Minister Dr Alfred Madigele has revealed.

Madigele believes the government should take control of the referrals for specialised care and channel the resources in a strategic manner that grows both public and private sector capacity.  “We must prioritise supporting our private hospitals over external facilities. In partnership with our providers, we must devise concrete measures to curb abuse and wastage in billing for services,” he said before adding.


“We will save a lot of money. Initially we spent P300 million yearly but the contract with the middlemen who facilitated those referrals elapsed and we built our own which saved us a lot,” he said during his first ever media engagement since assuming office last year.
The reason why the government decided to scrap exporting patients to South African hospitals was due to exorbitant medical bills which bled the ministry purse and other challenges including negligence.

Government has been sending patients to these two countries for average and complicated surgeries. A whopping P 627 504 802 was spent on South African hospitals between 2014 and 2017 while the Indian hospitals gobbled P13 million from the ministry between 2015 and 2017. The decision to do away with international referrals has been on the pipeline since last year and it was catalysed by the opening of the Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital (SKMTH).

“A phased commissioning of SKMTH will reduce overdependence on South Africa for referrals, reduce costs and also institutionalize provision of super specialist services within Botswana. The hospital which is still on the first phase of commissioning and expected to open doors on the 24th of this month will offer a number of services including; paediatric oncology, internal medicine, rheumatology and endocrinology, diagnostic radiology, laboratory services and pharmacy.

These and many others that the hospital will offer upon full commissioning have been cases that gobbled millions of pula from the government. Reasons to transfer patients to the international private facilities ranged from complicated cases, lack of proper equipment and infrastructure by the hospital. Flagship hospital Princess Marina is said to be lacking capacity in the three components to do the work with diligence.

This development follows the recommendations by the Deputy Director- Patient Care, Setso Setso who advised the ministry last year. “We have the capacity to carry out most of surgeries locally. We have specialists; I don’t know why we keep on referring patients outside, because it is costly. Referrals within a country have proven to be cheap,” he said then.

On the other hand cardiology mostly interventional paediatric and cardiothoracic surgeries costs R500 000 on average, with complicated cases ranging between R800 000- R1 million. A total of 87 patients were sent for examination on these cases last year. The government after sending 99 patients spent between R120 000 and R300 000 for normal vascular surgeries, while spending R800 00- R100 000 for complicated cases. For ophthalmology diseases especially retinal detachment, corneal transplant and diabetic retinopathy among others, 342 patients sent outside, the government was spending R1 200 for consultation with R62 500 for surgery per patient.

For laser treatment (few but high cost) where 36 patients were refereed outside, the ministry splashed between R120 000 and R400 000. All these according to Setso should be done locally if the government is to be financially prudent. “We should come up with a model to sustain what we have. Let’s purchase equipment so we can do these locally. We can also call the specialists to come and do those surgeries in Botswana.

We should also go the technological way, let’s have a tele-medicine where a nurse or a doctor can just look at the screen and prescribe to you which medicines you can take. This will save congestion in some facilities or going up and down to the hospitals as doctors in your locality will be able to read from far and give patient medicines,” he said.

The idea by Setso was warmly welcomed by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry Ruth Maphorisa and convinced the minister. “We should do things differently. We should change our attitude. “Let’s make our facilities function and stop going out, it is unnecessary at times. We can have a plan for the doctors that patients normally visit to come here regularly. Further we should have more specialists as a country let them go out for further training,” she said last year.

MEDICATION AVAILABILITY

The health ministry which has been on the media for wrong reasons owing to medication shortage has risen from slumber. The ministry is in the process of installing an electronic information management system (e-Pulse) through which a better forecast in medicine requirements is expected and will strengthen inventory management. The Ministry has further upgraded the position of Central Medical Stores Manager and has placed additional manpower with requisite skills and knowledge in supply chain.

MINISTRY CONSIDERS LEGALISING ABORTION

With many backstreet abortion reported in various health facilities, the ministry has taken a decision to seriously start conversation on legalising selective terminations. “The Ministry is considering having conversation around legalising selective abortions. This is because we record a number of unsafe abortions and we will have to turn that around,” said minister Madigele.


GOVT ENGAGES TRADITIONAL HEALERS  

Madigele also added that his ministry is on track to formally approach traditional healers to assist where there is a need, especially in mysterious diseases like the mass hysteria that befell Lempu CJSS, which caused numbness and weakness of the knees.
“Health is very broad subject and we want to engage them (traditional doctors). Medicines are plant based so we need to formalize synergies especially on Non Communicable Diseases and understand cultural beliefs and I believe it will mostly benefit patients if we collaborate.”

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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