A semi-autonomous health regulatory body which was established by parliament, Botswana Health Professions Council (BHPC) is currently under heavy scrutiny for applying double standards in registering doctors.
It is understood that, in registering doctors, the organisation favours Chinese expatriates as opposed to local specialists although both having trained in China. This, notwithstanding, the government on one hand continues to send Batswana to China for training as doctors. The reasons advanced by the BHPC for rejecting Batswana doctors trained in China is said to be that government sends the doctors to “fly by night” institutions in China who are not competent enough to practice as specialists upon their return.
However, the BHPC board is said to be infested with doctors in private practice who protect their monopoly interests. It is understood that they suppress the influx of equally competitive Batswana doctors as they fear competition from their honey pot in the likes of Bokamoso and Gaborone Private Hospitals.
BHPC is composed of members appointed by the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dorcus Makgatho. The council’s composition includes the Director of Health Services; the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Botswana; three medical practitioners, one of whom is a specialist; two dentists; two pharmacists; six Allied Health Professionals; one Associated Health Professional; one person form the Public not associated with Health Professionals; and a representative from the Attorney-General Chambers (legal Advisor). The China/Botswana medical training partnership has been in existence for the past 40 years.
What PS Al-Halabi “knows” about BPHC
Meanwhile when appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently, the Accounting Officer at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Permanent Secretary Shenaaz El-Halabi tried to distance herself from BHPC. She stressed that the Council is semi-autonomous and independent from government but was reminded that it’s directly under her ministry.
Starting to pit the PS against the wall was Selibe Phikwe West maverick legislator who highlighted to Halabi that there is a cartel of self-appointed BHPC council members who are mainly Doctors in the private space, and that this council has decided to not register Batswana specialist Doctors trained in China (and some countries) where the government sends students for training as doctors.
The Accounting officer then responded to Keorapetse by confirming that she “is aware” that the BHPC is mainly made up of private doctors or practitioners in the sector and that there is none from government except the Director of Health Services and the Attorney General representative.
According to Keorapetse, the reasons advanced by the council are that Batswana doctors do not write licensing exams to practice in China or other countries. “It is common knowledge that all Doctors /specialists trained outside our country do not necessarily have to write licensing exams of their country of training as a licensing exam is only required where the candidate intents to practice..in which case only Botswana’s licensing exam is necessary for Batswana…” he informed Al-Halabi who was on the edge of her chair at the time.
Keorapetse emphasised that it is worth noting that if private practice doctors were to allow an influx of Batswana specialists from any country in large numbers they would risk competition in the private space adding that these people were making millions from Gaborone Private Hospital and Bokamoso hospital and that “they are avoiding competition by denying other Batswana specialists registration.” He asked the accounting officer whether she was aware that Batswana students are sent to China to specialize while on the other hand the BHPC refuses to register them upon their return to practice.
Al-Halabi stated: “yes I am aware of that.” When he asked further why then still they continue to send the student doctors there despite the development, Al-Halabi said “yes we do continue sending them to China to study but with due diligence being followed.” She added that, as a ministry when students doctors are sent to China they make sure that the schools which they attend are accredited.
The local doctors, Keorapetse narrated, have had one of them taking the BPHC to court and the Council lost, but they will not use the precedent to register everyone because they want to keep people out of registration for a while enjoying monopoly in the private space. “They are fully aware that court cases take a while, they are also aware that in any case every time BHPC loses cases they do not have to personally pay anything, in the end it's the ministry of Health that pays,” he added.
The Selibe Phikwe West law maker also emphasized that this is corruption of the highest order by the elite who are holding the country’s health care at ransom through denying Batswana trained specialists only to protect their private interests. He added that it is sad that their Chinese counterparts are recruited here and registered by the same BHPC but Batswana who trained in the same system are denied that registration out of selfish interests.
The sentiment was also shared by Al-Halabi: “the local doctors’ concern is that Chinese doctors who studied at China come here in our country and they get easily registered and are accredited to practice as specialists while Batswana who likewise studied at China are not when they return back home.” When justifying the move she said, in China they have certain courses for developing countries and so the education system is very different.
On another related matter, Keorapetse said there are some senior doctors who have practiced for a long time as specialists whilst they only hold Member of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the UK (MRCP or FRCP(Canada)/ Fellowship of the Colleges of Physicians of SA(FCP-SA).
“How many of these doctors have practiced and for how long? Were they hired and paid as specialists? Were they registered by the Health Professional Council? Why? Are some of them now in schools trying to specialize?” he wondered. Al-Halabi pleaded with the committee that she will look into the matter and make sure that the calamity is addressed.
In addition the Ministry of Health and Wellness PS Al-Halabi also told the PAC that she had a meeting with China ambassador and Health professionals to discuss all issues with regard to the professionals’ trainings and will map a way forward. Health Council board chair contradicts PS Al-Halabi
However when speaking to Weekend Post on the matter this week, BHPC Board Chairman Boago Modiitsane dismissed any misdeeds on the part of the Health Council board. In fact, he contradicted her superior, PS Al-Halabi saying that the organ is placed under the Ministry of Health and Wellness. He also said the partnership between government of Botswana through Ministry Of Health and Wellness and The People’s Republic of China also has no bearing on the registration of any applicant.
He broke ranks with the PS while defending BHPC saying they “are not aware” of where the Ministry Of Health and Wellness sends its employees for training when quizzed if this isn’t likely to strain relations between the doctors originating from the two countries. He was quick to clarify that BHPC does indeed recognize any trained specialists who meet registration requirements and that the country of training is never a requirement (in this case China).
“BHPC does register Batswana trained specialists. We have about 105 Batswana specialists in the register as of February 2017 trained from various parts of the world and we continue to register Batswana specialists. Therefore, the statement that BHPC does not register Batswana specialists is misleading,” Modiitsane said.
He went on to stress that specialists are clinicians who have refined skills in patient care beyond that of a generalist, and therefore on assessing an application for specialist registration BHPC looks for, among other things, whether a training programme has delivered the appropriate clinical competencies to deliver specialized patient care to Batswana in a safe manner.
He also stated that: “training of health professionals follows two different pathways that lead to varied outcomes. Health professionals who intend to sharpen their skills in patient care will follow the clinical pathway that will enhance their clinical competency while those that are interested in research will follow an academic pathway.” “Consistent with this mandate, BHPC is more concerned with clinical rather than academic programmes. This applies to every applicant regardless of the country of training.”
The BHPC Board Chairman also explained that assessment of applications for registration is an objective exercise that is based on the minimum requirement set by BHPC. One must meet these minimum standards for them to be registered, he said. According to Modiitsane the BHPC boards are composed of members who are drawn from both the public and private sector, therefore the statement that Batswana Health Professionals are refused registration because of fear of competition is unfounded. Furthermore, he said both Batswana and Foreigners are eligible for private Practice if they meet the required standards. “The alleged fear for competition (real or imagined), therefore, should apply in case of where foreigners are registered.”
Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.
Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.
“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.
Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.
The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.
The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River. They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).
His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.
The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.
Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.
37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far
Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.
“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.
It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.
Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.
In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.
“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.
Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.
Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”
Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.
He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”
According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.
Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.
“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.
He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.
Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.
“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.
He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”
Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.
However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.
In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.
“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.
Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.
“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.
Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.
In an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.
The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.
“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.
According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.
“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.
Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.
“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.
“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.
Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).
On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.
Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.
President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.
“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.
On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.
In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.
Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.
Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.
As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.
This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.
The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.
As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.
“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.