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Gov’t ignored 2 million doses COVID-19 vaccine pledge 

DIKOLOTI

The government has reportedly missed out on an opportunity to secure 2 million doses of AstraZeneca, following efforts made by Batswana living in the diaspora to negotiate the deal for their besieged nation. 

The humanitarian gesture spearheaded by Batswana in the diaspora — who say they are concerned by the high mortality rate locally — has not been warmly welcomed at the government enclave.

“We are losing our relatives, friends, and associates. Based on the network we have cultivated over time, we negotiated an offer for Botswana so that the leadership may be aware of the availability. These samaritans engaged directly with the supplier to buy because you ought to be connected for you to secure vaccines right now. It is not the question of having cash power; the demand is high,” one of the negotiators told this publication.

Information received by WeekendPost shows a country leadership that looks somehow lax in engaging the suppliers and has no pressure to procure vaccines – this is evidenced by several correspondences between some ambassadors and the negotiators seen by this publication.

“I am still trying to get the powers that be at home. HE’s (President Mokgweetsi Masisi) mobile is going unanswered. But usually, he will return the call. Grace Muzila (Permanent Secretary- Ministry of Health and Wellness- MoHW) is also not picking the phone. I will keep on calling. So let me get an indication from home before I talk to Jette (AstraZeneca supplier),” a correspondence from one Ambassador to the concerned connected Motswana reads.

This correspondence was the last time between the Ambassador and the facilitator who did not want to be named – arguing that he does not want to appear to be looking for political mileage on the deal.

As a matter of fact, in another conversation, the facilitator, who at one point was a cabinet minister, is quoted saying, “I have no personal benefit sir, it is information I am giving you freely. Our people are dying. I have done my patriotic duty, sir. Let’s try to source the vaccine to immunize our people.”

Desperate attempts to engage with the Ambassador hit a brick wall, with other information suggesting that the higher-ups were not interested in the deal, despite the dire need for vaccine locally.

At the beginning of the virus in 2020 here in Botswana, the same negotiators are the ones who organized donated masks for some Southern African countries.

Different Ambassadors were asked to collect masks, and the Botswana Ambassador in China organized 10,000 NK95 masks. “We do not have to make noise about it; we all have to contribute to assist our people, no political expediency,” he says.

Both the Health Ministry and OP media liaison offices were yet to respond to this publication’s inquiries on the matter despite numerous attempts to engage them.

According to the Presidential Taskforce report, Botswana has administered at least 318,107 doses of COVID vaccines. Assuming every person needs two doses, Botswana is estimated to have vaccinated about 6.9% of her population. Botswana has a population of around 2.5 million people.

The available AstraZeneca doses negotiated for Botswana have since been offered to other countries that demonstrated a desire to buy.

Botswana is currently struggling to immunize the citizenry as a lack of connection globally to convince the manufacturers to prioritize her. In his tours to various health facilities last week to appreciate the vaccine rollout program, President Masisi said the vaccine is costly and scarce. He also revealed how the COVAX facility failed Botswana.

“As third world nations, we poured money into COVAX to buy only to learn that they are tricking us, there is nothing. We now have to look for funds and buy the available vaccines,” Masisi told residents of Ramotswa.

COVAX is a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

COVAX coordinates international resources to enable low-to-middle-income countries equitable access to COVID-19 tests, therapies, and vaccines. By 15 July 2020, 165 countries – representing 60% of the human population – had joined COVAX.

As of 11 April 2021, COVAX has delivered 38.5 million doses, falling well short of 100 million promised doses by the end of March 2021. And as of 6 July 2021, 100 million doses have been delivered.

HEALTH MINISTER SAYS NO TO SPUTNIK

Following the AstraZeneca fiasco, the concerned Batswana once again reached out to the Assistant Minister of Health, Sethomo Lelatisitswe, on the prospects of the Russian medication of Sputnik V. The vaccine is currently used by 70 nations worldwide in the fight against the pandemic, and it is one of the first to trial to fight COVID -19.

Like AstraZeneca, the Minister is not keen on the medication, which he admits in one of the exchanges with the negotiators that WHO has cleared it. The main reason why the Minister threw the Sputnik idea into the dustbin is that it “is not registered as yet by Botswana Medical Regulatory Authority (BOMRA).” Further, even saying the manufactures of the drug should come and convince them as authorities why they should procure the vaccine. The Minister could not respond as to whether BOMRA will evaluate the use of Sputnik in Botswana and whether it is possible for them to carry trials here.

SoE IS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

There is a growing concern from those sourcing assistance from affluent nations, expressing concern over President Masisi’s continued State of public Emergency (SoE). They argue that the Health Ministry’s hands are tied hence unable to make decisions because Masisi is the only man who can take decisions during the State of Emergency. “We can excuse the Health Ministry because decisions are mostly taken at Office of the President (OP). Therefore, if they do not see the need for patriotic assistance, then let it be, but our people are perishing the hurtful thing. We will keep on trying our best from our networks here for our people,” adds the facilitator who is currently in the Middle East.

Last week, Lelatisitswe told parliament that the government expects around 380 000 vaccine doses in the coming months to immunize Batswana. However, the doses are a far cry from what reality dictates on the ground.

 

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Mental health concern amid COVID-19 pandemic 

24th September 2021
Mental Health

With the advent of COVID-19, mental health and psychosocial has become a major concern around the world. There is   significant increase in the rates of stress, anxiety and depression globally.

In creating awareness and support on mental health and psychosocial support, the Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development, through the Department of Social Protection (DSP) hosted a virtual regional mental health and Psychosocial Support Forum (MHPSS).

The MHPSS Forum brings together stakeholders from different sectors providing Mental Health and Psychosocial Support services particularly to children, youth, families and the workforce, as well as Academia, International Cooperating Partners, Community Implementing Partners and the media.

It aims to facilitate learning, information exchange and advocacy to promote mainstreaming of Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support (PSS) into policies, programmes, services and funding priorities for children and youth in Botswana.

The event is a partnership between The Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development, through the Department of Social Protection (DSP), and the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI), with Project Concern International Botswana (PCI) and Marang Child Care Network Trust (MCCNT).

The event is held every two years, and Botswana started hosting the Forum in 2014. The theme for this year is ‘Innovate, Integrate, Thrive,’ which prompts us to find new ways to survive the COVID-19 pandemic which we can mainstream into our daily activities.

The Northern Regional Forum in Mahalapye was held on 17-19 August 2021 while the Southern Regional Forum  in  Ghanzi, was  from 21-23 September 2021. Findings from both regions will be presented at the National Forum to be held in Kasane on 12-14 October 2021. The event is held in collaboration with local authorities in each region.

The event is structured in this manner: The first day is a Special Session for Children, where children in the region will talk about the challenges they face that affect their mental health, how they cope and what they think can be done to support them.

The second day is the official opening where the lead ministry gives a keynote address, and presentations from service providers in the region. The third and last day is abstract presentations from different speakers on thematic areas under the theme.

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GMES & Africa Southern Africa to hold a Regional Stakeholder Workshop on Earth Observation Technologies

24th September 2021
GMESAfrica

The Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) in collaboration with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) will hold a Hybrid GMES and Africa Regional workshop from 27 – 29 September 2021, at Safari Hotel in Windhoek, Namibia.

The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security and Africa (GMES & Africa) Initiative is a programme formed out of mutual cooperation between Africa and Europe with a focus on Earth Observation (EO) systems.

It was formed to respond to the global need to manage the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security by providing information to policymakers, scientists, private sector and the public. GMES and Africa aims to promote development of local capacities, institutional, human and technical resources for access to and exploitation of Earth Observation (EO) based services on an operational basis for sustainable development in Africa.

In its first phase, GMES has funded 13 consortiums in Africa. In Southern African, SASSCAL-led consortia is implementing the Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Service for Transboundary Basins in Southern Africa (WeMAST) Project while CSIR is leading the Marine and Coastal Operations for Southern Africa (MARCO[1]South). SASSCAL Members of the consortium include the University of Botswana, University of Zambia, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, University of the Western Cape and Midlands State University, South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) of Zambia.

CSIR led consortium includes ABALOBI, Benguela Current Convention, Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, National Sea Rescue Institute, University of Dar Es Salaam, University of Eduardo Mondlane and the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association).

The workshop will also provide an opportunity to promote and encourage mutual exchanges in terms of sharing best practices, knowledge and experiences as well as allow for the exchange of information and knowledge on new and innovative Earth Observation technologies developed under the programmes and their alignment with the region’s sustainable development strategies.

The workshop will also reveal trends in the use of earth observation data to monitor and assess wetland conditions, threats to sustainable utilisation of wetland resources as well as updating stakeholders on how climate change variability and drought is continually affecting Sub-Saharan Africa’s surface water resources.

The workshop’s envisaged outcomes will be to ensure shared knowledge and understanding of the new and innovative Earth Observation technologies, and their application to society. Expected to visit is a broader pool of international delegates from the two continents (Europe and Africa) both physically and virtual.

This includes the member countries policy makers, line ministers from the SADC countries, public and private sector stakeholders, implementers, Basin Commissions, researchers, and any other stakeholders whose activities are related to coastal areas, rivers, and their ecosystems.

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Vendors ready for the Tobacco Control Bill

21st September 2021
Vendors

Some vendors have been misled
Vendors thrive on households goods and fresh produce

Despite the previous false allegations that the Tobacco Control Bill will lead to several 20 000 vendors across the country losing their jobs, several local vendors have expressed that they are ready for the bill and because vendors sell mostly household goods

“This is something that we openly accept and receive as street vendors, the problem is some of our counterparts were misled and made to believe that we will not be allowed to sell cigarettes on our stalls.

Some of us got to understand that the bill states that we have to be licensed to sell cigarettes, we are not supposed to sell them to children under the age of 18 years of age and eliminating the selling of single sticks. We understand that this agenda is meant to develop a healthy nation but not take us down,” said Mbimbi Tau a vendor who operates from Mogoditshane.

The Tobacco Control Bill has been passed in several countries and street vendors are operating properly without any challenges faced. Tau further mentioned that there is no way that the Tobacco Control Bill will affect their business operations, all they have to do as vendors are to get the required documentation and do what the bill requires.

Another vendor Busani Selalame who operates from Gaborone Bonnington North was not shy to express his support towards the Tobacco Control Bill, “the problem is that some people within our sector have been misled and now they think that the bill is meant to take our operations down and completely stop selling cigarettes.

I support the fact that we are not supposed to sell cigarettes to children who are under the age of 18 years of age this has always been wrong, as parents we should be cautious of such and ensure that our children are disassociated with cigarettes,” said Selalame.

The Tobacco Control Bill prohibits advertising, promotion and sponsorship by the tobacco industry to prevent messages, cues, and other inducements to begin using tobacco, especially among the youth, to reassure users to continue their use, or that otherwise undermine quitting.

Renowned economist Bakang Ntshingane is of the view that since vendors sell household goods and fresh produce they are likely to keep on making profits despite what the Tobacco Control Bill comes with. He further stated that the Tobacco Control Bill will not be of harm on the local economy since the country does not manufacture or produce any tobacco related products.

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