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Botswana Health system: A cry for change

DR KARL BRIGHT
HEALTH PRACTITIONER


Botswana has over the years delighted itself in being ranked higher than most regional/sub Saharan countries in areas like peace, economy and freedom among others but not the least. At some point we were ranked number 1 for being the “most globalized nation” in Africa. A country dubbed as a middle-income country, with a population of 2 million and a life expectancy of just 54. Sadly enough, all these accolades do not reflect any good about our health care services in this nation and for that we are really concerned.


The health care system in Botswana is in big trouble and this does not reflect the pride we “always” have for our country, nor does it reflect the “good” praises we seldom get from other countries for our “good” governance. If this was a joke at some point, it is not now. Botswana needs to wake up to its dwindling health care services/system. What we see on paper should reflect what is on the ground. Sadly currently it is not.


To better understand this problem one needs to have seen better health care systems to be in a better platform to reflect on our own. All of our Drs have trained outside the country (except for the recent small group that graduated from UB School of Medicine) including the Australian health care system, European countries, Americas, Asia and other African countries. We have seen major differences but most of them are really basic that we as nation should put in place.


We are losing young lives in hospitals in Botswana comparatively, not because we don’t know what to do but because of the scarce simple basic medical supplies that a standard referral hospital should have at all times and the lack of medical Doctors. I know this is a hard pill to swallow, and most of those who claim to be concerned about this don’t talk about it, at least to a level where change would be certain.


We love our country and we will engage in all good manner of discussions with our government to see inevitable change. I recently visited home on a holiday during which my nephew aged 2, accidentally sustained a laceration on the forehead that needed suturing. To my shock or surprise, on arrival to Princess Marina, there was only 1 doctor and 2 nurses working in the emergency department of the biggest public referral hospital in Botswana.

I was told that there was no suturing material and no dressing materials and that it had been like that for weeks and that there was no one to help me as the DR was “busy” with the patients who came hours before we did. To make matters worse, there were many patients and no one to help me as the DR was “busy” with the patients who came hours before we did. To make matters worse, there were many patients in cubicles not attended to, some waiting in mattresses so sick on the waiting area, in wheel chairs, both old and young, some sleeping on benches not attended to. What a sad picture.


In addition, this was on a morning shift were on a normal basis you would expect many doctors to be on the shift. This made me sad and wondered why Botswana; a country with only a population of 2 million people would not have a very good health care system or at least a standard at par with other regional countries. Where is our health care system going? Things are getting worse rather than better.


Workers are frustrated and we are losing more doctors. The sad thig is we “always talk” about this and nothing improves. This is a time where we need to reflect on our own health care system and ask ourselves why we can’t compete with neighbouring countries like south Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other first world countries where our own Drs seem to be running to. What is causing our hospitals to be in a terrible situation like this? I recently asked some Drs in Marina and others who are in clinics around Gaborone where they themselves go for medical help when they are unwell or have an emergency.

The answer was surprising and just made me feel we are really far from getting it right. One of them said” we go to private hospitals”. I further asked… “Does that mean then you do not value your own services you provide and the hospitals you work in to help yourselves?? “What about the many who cannot afford private health care…?” …They answered, “Go thata monna….”. This is really sad and even the country’s top officials would agree that we are in trouble and need to fix our health system ASAP. We need to retain Drs in Botswana. Not only our own local citizen Drs but we need to have international well-accredited good doctors who will stay in Botswana and help this system to flourish.


Most of our problems I realize are not on the ground per se like most people think but a mixture of both management in our hospitals and ministry level flaws and lack of accountability in hospitals and local clinics. Botswana should retain majority of their Local Drs in major referral centres and reserve rural or district placements to outsiders as many of the first world countries do. But I do agree this is a complex task that would need proper execution to balance out things.


Perhaps those Drs sent to rural areas could receive more incentives to service these areas. You cannot run major hospitals with outsiders and send/transfer your own Drs who could be making a huge impact or difference in these Dr shortage places to rural areas. We need to wake up Batswana.

I want to go to a hospital and have the highest confidence that I would get the help I need and better off, take my children and relatives to our hospitals and know that they will come back well and alive. Unfortunately at the moment things are not encouraging. I am saying this with a sad heart because Botswana health care system is terrible comparatively but could be better.
I urge our leaders to take this seriously and work quicker lest we find ourselves with a “non-existent” health care system.

The time for talking is over and we need to seriously act now and put in place new policies that will see our health care system improve. There is no Motswana Dr who likes working oversees or wants to live overseas forever. They all want to work and live in Botswana-for home is where the heart is-and they want to help improve the health of Batswana.


Unfortunately many factors including political, financial and working conditions have forced them to be where they are today. Not because they are disloyal but because our own Botswana cannot provide a great platform for these Drs to practice their good quality medicine they have patiently studied for many years outside the country.

All of us Drs who received grants/loans for medical education are eternally grateful to the government and the public of Botswana for their monetary funds. To see Drs resigning and leaving the country is sad and a waste of millions of Pula’s and this should stop.“ This is like buying a Rolls Royce and not servicing it or not get concerned when someone steals it” one Dr Macheng at Princess Marina said.


And let us all be honest, most of these factors are the comparative low salaries, lack of specialists in Botswana or the enticement of and retaining these specialists from partner medical schools or other countries, the lack of medications and or the turn over time to stock other important supplies in our major hospitals. It’s a really saddening scenario. We have over the years been talking about these issues but its like talking to deaf ears.


Batswana need and demand to see a good health care system that would afford to treat even our president, ministers, ambassadors and other high officials etc. Not to fly them out of the country when trouble kicks in for “better health care”. That I do not take pride in and I call on our government to scrutinize this and for them to put new and life changing measures they have never engrossed before to change this saddening scenario. Better health should be for all i.e. for both the man and woman working or not, rich or poor, medical aid or no medical aid and it should all together be affordable.


I believe in Botswana and I believe we can improve things. I pray that my cry for the health care system of this country to improve would be heard. I call on the government and all Drs of this country, currently working in the public sector, private sector, retired, resigned, working in neighbouring countries or working overseas to go back to the drawing boards and work together to pen down new policies that would take this nation on a different yet better direction regarding our health care system.


I also call on the medical body of this country BMA-Botswana medical association (if existent at all) to wake up and represent the interests of Drs in this country and to seriously advocate, represent and fight the battles of Drs with utmost zeal and zest and with respect. They need to fervently liaise with the governing body to discuss issues and matters regarding health care in Botswana and to make sure that matters are resolved and changed within a timely manner for sole purpose of improving our people’s health.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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