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STI’s, HIV, TB estimated to kill over 4 million poor people this year – WHO

As a new year and a new decade kick off, World Health Organization WHO has released a list of urgent, global health challenges. This list, developed with input from their experts around the world, reflects a deep concern that leaders are failing to invest enough resources in core health priorities and systems.

This puts lives, livelihoods and economies in jeopardy. None of these issues are simple to address, but they are within reach. Public health is ultimately a political choice. WHO says there is a need to realize that health is an investment in the future, adding that countries invest heavily in protecting their people from terrorist attacks, but not against the attack of a virus, which could be far more deadly, and far more damaging economically and socially. A pandemic could bring economies and nations to their knees, which is why health security cannot be a matter for ministries of health alone.

All the challenges in the list demand a response from more than just the health sector, WHO warns. ‘’we face shared threats and we have a shared responsibility to act. With the deadline for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals quickly approaching, the United Nations General Assembly has underscored that the next 10 years must be the ‘’decade of action’’. This according to WHO means advocating for national funding to address gaps in health systems and health infrastructure, as well as providing support to the most vulnerable countries. Investing now will save lives and money later.

According to the group, infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, malaria, neglected tropical diseases and sexually transmitted infections will kill an estimated 4 million people in 2020, most of them poor. Meanwhile, vaccine-preventable diseases continue to kill, such as measles, which took 140 thousand lives in 2019, many of them children. Although polio has been driven to the brink of eradication, there were 156 cases of wild poliovirus last year, the most since 2014.

WHO indicated that the root causes are insufficient levels of financing and the weakness of health systems in endemic countries, coupled with a lack of commitment from wealthy countries. The climate crisis is a health crisis. According to World Health Organization, air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people every year, while climate change causes more extreme weather events, exacerbates malnutrition and fuels the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria.

The same emissions that cause global warming are responsible for more than one-quarter of deaths from heart attack, stroke, lung cancer and chronic respiratory disease. WHO says leaders in both the public and private sectors must work together to clean up air and mitigate the health impacts of climate change.

In 2019, over 80 cities in more than 50 countries committed to WHO’s an air quality guideline, agreeing to align their air pollution and climate policies. This year, the organization will work towards developing a set of policy options for governments to prevents or reduce the health risks of air pollution.

WHO further underscored that last year, most disease outbreaks requiring the highest level of WHO response occurred in countries with protracted conflict. The health organization also saw the continuation of a disturbing trend in which health worker and facilities were targeted. WHO recorded 978 attacks on health care in 11 countries last year, with 193 deaths. At the same time, conflict is forcing record numbers of people out of their own home, leaving tens of millions of people with little access to health care, sometimes for years.

Last year, WHO responded to 58 emergencies in 50 countries, deployed mobile medical teams, improved disease detection and warned systems and conducted vaccination campaigns. The group is working to save lives and prevent suffering by working with countries and partners to strengthen health systems, improving preparedness and expanding the availability of long-term contingency financing for complex health emergencies.

According to a report from the group, persistent and growing socio-economic gaps result in major discrepancies in the quality of people’s health. There’s not only an 18-year difference in life expectancy between rich and poor countries, but also a marked gap within countries and even within cities. Meanwhile, the global rise in non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes, has a disproportionately large burden in low and middle-income countries and can quickly drain the resources of poorer households.

It was also underlined that about one-third of the world’s people lack access to medicines, vaccines, diagnostic tools and other essential health products. Low access to quality health products threatens health and lives, which can both endanger patients and fuel drug resistance. Medicines and other health products are the second-largest expenditure for most health systems and the largest component of private health expenditure in low- and middle-income countries.

Every year, as WHO reported, the world spends far more responding to disease outbreaks, natural disasters and other health emergencies than it does preparing for and preventing them. A pandemic of a new, highly infectious, airborne virus- most likely a strain of influenza- to which most people lack immunity is inevitable. It is not a matter of if another pandemic will strike, but when, and when it strikes it will spread fast, potentially threatening millions of lives. Meanwhile, vector-borne diseases likes dengue, malaria, zika, and yellow fever are spreading as mosquito population’s move into new areas, fanned by climate change.

Lack of food, unsafe food and unhealthy diets are responsible for almost one-third of today’s global disease burden. Hunger and food insecurity continue to plague millions, with food shortages being perniciously exploited as weapons of war. At the same time, as people consume foods and drinks high in sugar, saturated fat, Trans fat and salt, overweight, obesity and diet-related diseases are on the rise globally. Meanwhile, tobacco use is declining in a few but rising in most countries, and evidence is building about the health risks of e-cigarettes.

WHO noted that chronic-investment in the education and employment of health workers, coupled with a failure to ensure decent pay, and has led to health workers shortages all over the world. This, it said, jeopardizes health and social care services and sustainable health systems. The world will need 18 million additional health workers by 2030, primarily in low- and middle-income countries, including 9 million nurses and midwives.

To trigger action and encourage investment in education, skills and jobs, the World Health Assembly has designated 2020 the year of the nurse and the midwife. Meanwhile, WHO stressed that more than 1 million adolescents aged 10-19 years die every year. The leading causes of death in this age group are road injury, HIV, suicide, lower respiratory infections and interpersonal violence.

Harmful use of alcohol, tobacco and drug use, lack of physical activity, unprotected sex and previous exposure to child maltreatment all increase the risks for these causes of death. In 2020, WHO will issue new guidance for policymakers, health practitioners and educators, called Helping Adolescents Thrive. The aim is to promote adolescents’ mental health and prevent the use of drugs, alcohol, self-harm and interpersonal violence, as well as provide young people with information on preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, contraception, and care during pregnancy and childbirths.

However, the organization emphasized that new technologies are revolutionizing their ability to prevent, diagnose and treat many diseases. Genome editing, synthetic biology and digital health technologies such as artificial intelligence can solve many problems, but also raise new questions and challenges for monitoring and regulation. Without a deeper understanding of their ethical and social implications, these new technologies, which include the capacity to create new organisms, could harm the people they are intended to help, WHO warns.

The group set up new advisory committees for human genome editing and digital health last year, bringing together the world’s leading experts to review evidence and provide guidance. WHO is also working with countries to enable them to plan, adopt, and benefit from new tools that provide clinical and public health solutions, while supporting better regulation of their development and use.

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Mowana Mine to open, pay employees millions

18th January 2022
Mowana Mine

Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.

“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).

Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.

A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.

The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”

Negotiated estate is P35, 563,000

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Councilors’ benefits debacle-savingram reveals detail

18th January 2022

A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.

The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.

This has since been denied by the Ministry.  In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.”  Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”

The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term.  “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja.  He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”

Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation.  Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.

It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.

Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.

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Households spending to drive economic recovery

17th January 2022

A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.

The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.”  According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.

“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.

Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions.  It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.

“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.

Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.

Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.

According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.”  Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.

It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from.  “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.

Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems.  It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation.  Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.

It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.

“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions.
Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.

“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions.  Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”

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