As countries continue to wind up their COVID 19 fight and exit the battleground, pressure continues to mount on Botswana’s battle leaders, the COVID-19 Task Team, to wrap up, pack their bags and vacate the scene and hand over power to the rightful heir – the Ministry of Health and Wellness which experts say has the right ammunition to continue to monitor the pandemic.
Officials at the Ministry say the Task Team should do the honourable thing and inform the president, Mokgweetsi Masisi that there is no more work to be done because the president seems to be at pains to pull the plug on them. Botswana is among the leading countries in the region on vaccine roll out and many citizens have long returned to normality.
Speaking to this publication on conditions of anonymity, high ranking Ministry officials said the Task Team has caused so much pain and destruction at the Ministry and ruined many blossoming careers because of the power they currently wield. They said “of late the Team seems to be idling and encroaching into other territories unrelated to their mandate and causing confusion.”
Asked for his impressions on the unfolding events, the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Edward Maganu who has worked for the Ministry of Health for 21 years and for World Health Organisation (WHO) for more than 12 years, says the Ministry should be given a chance to strengthen its disease control capability.
“My own feeling is that epidemics and pandemics are a challenge to the health sector, and therefore the Ministry of Health should use the occasion to strengthen its disease control capability. Our Ministry has medical professionals specialized in Public Health and in Internal Medicine. They should be given responsibilities when there are disease outbreaks, big or small,” he said further reasoning that “that will enable them and of course the Ministry to build disease control capability, which is good for the future.”
According to Maganu, “the Ministry should have a department or division responsible for epidemiology and disease control.”
He declined to make comments on the Task Team saying, “I cannot comment on the existence of the Task Team as I do not know how they work with the Ministry except from what I have read in the press. Certainly the Ministry should take control of Covid-19 control as it is likely to be with us for some time to come, or even become endemic.”
Similarly he shied away from answering a question on whether he shares the view that the team should be disbanded.“I cannot comment on whether the Task Team should be disbanded as I am not sure what their role in long-term disease control is, and what their role in capacity building of the Ministry is. The resources for disease control, including Covid-19, should of course be with the Ministry of Health.”
The Task Team which was once regarded as a team of messiahs now finds itself having to defend its existence from people who are now convinced that they have nothing to offer. Their weekly television COVID 19-updates views have dropped drastically with many being of the view that the Team now only exists as COVID 19 statisticians. Yet, there are others who are of the view that Botswana should not relax guard yet until the World Health Organisation signals so.
The Task Team and the Ministry official have never seen eye to eye since day one. Their animosity dates back to the days when the Task Team was appointed where upon the ministry officials felt overlooked to lead the fight against the pandemic. The animosity was further fuelled by the hefty salaries paid to the team which officials said were unheard of in the salary structures. The Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane informed parliament last year that in a year, the team clocks over P5 million.
The government last year cut ties with the Task Team’s communications team after public pressure following discoveries that the team communications team was each earning over P50 000 despite earning competitive salaries from their primary workstations.
African Scientists and Experts Call for the adoption of a Harm Reduction in approach in Public Health Strategies and Tobacco Control. Media have a critical role to play in accelerating Harm Reduction efforts by informing and sensitizing cigarette smokers on the availability and benefits of alternative, potentially lower risk products to cigarretes. Traditional cessation and smoking prevention norms are not the only ways that smokers who cannot or donâ€™tâ€™ want to quit can make healthier choices that cause less harm to themselves and those around them.
This was said during the 2nd Harm Reduction Exchange conference for African journalists held in Nairobi, Kenya on the 1st of December 2022. Speaking at the Harm Reduction Exchange Conference, Integra Africa Principal Dr. Tendai Mhizha emphasized the role that journalists and media houses should play in handling misinformation and disinformation in tobacco harm reduction discourse that is actually perpetuating the death and disease caused by people continuing to smoke combustible cigarettes. â€śThere has been a lot of disinformation surrounding the topic of nicotine and the alleged negative effects that e-cigarettes have on public health.
This has led to policies that disfavour risk reduces products and narratives that completely deny their benefits. The media have the difficult responsibility to curb the scourge of disinformation and misinformation on harm reduction just like on other socio-political stances that are prescriptive and do not uphold consumersâ€™ right to healthier lifestyle choices,â€ť Dr Mhizha said.
The Harm Reduction Exchange cast a spotlight on alternative ways to reduce harm among tobacco smokers. Held under the theme Harm Reduction: Making a difference in Africa, the conference focused on the progress being made through harm reduction strategies in all fields related to public health such as drug and alcohol abuse, excessive sugar consumption, skin lightening and other addictive and behavioral practices. A wide array of harm reduction strategies and initiatives that are deployed towards reducing unnecessary deaths through non-communicable diseases were presented and discussed.
It applies to areas where there is a need to reduce the harm associated with a practice or consumption of a substance that is overused in society leading to increased morbidity and mortality. â€śInnovative Harm Reduction initiatives will help to keep more Africans alive. Tobacco Harm Reduction initiatives, including the use of popular e-cigarettes, nicotine patches and chewing gums, have continued to generate a lot of misunderstanding in both the public health community and in the media. However, there is evidence that the use of potentially less harmful alternatives than cigarettes for those who are not willing or cannot give up smoking with currently approved methods may be a solution, not necessarily the best for everyone but by far better than continuous smoking.
Tobacco Harm Reduction was introduced to mitigate the damage caused by cigarette smokingâ€”the most dangerous form of tobacco use, and the leading cause of preventable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. â€śNicotine has an addictive potential but plays a minor role in smoking-related morbidity and mortality. Across the world, there is growing interest among experts in novel approaches towards tobacco control and there is an ongoing discussion that reducing the negative effects of smoking can be also achieved by tobacco harm reduction,â€ť Dr. Kgosi Letlape, an ophthalmologist and President of Africa Medical Association and the president of the Association of Medical Councils of Africa, said.
Tobacco cessation is a key factor in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Abstinence from tobacco smoking is one of the primary goals for health promotion and management globally but it is unachievable in a huge amount of cases. This task remains unaccomplished despite extensive public campaigns on the health dangers of tobacco smoking. Thus, the development of novel strategies to reduce smoking is imperative. Moreover, the use of innovations in smoking products has been currently adopted by several smokers to reduce the health risks of smoking.
â€śThe Harm Reduction approach prevents drug-related deaths and overdose fatalities and is the only way out for addicts. In the same way these alternative technologies can reduce tobacco harm and accelerate the journey to a smoke-free world as they reduce exposure to toxicants,â€ť Bernice Apondi, A Policy Manager at Voices of Community Action and Leadership Kenya (VOCAL-Kenya), said.
During the Harm Reduction Exchange, journalists drawn from Southern, West and East African countries, including: Nigeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Eswatini, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe debated and set forth several resolutions in regards to the present and future as well as the challenges and progress made in Harm Reduction,and science-led regulation.
The Harm Reduction Exchange brought together high-level policy makers, physicians, scientists and health policy experts with media stakeholders from Africa in a lively mix of speeches, presentations, and panel discussions. The key note speakers included Prof Abdoul Aziz Kasse, Ms Bernice Opondi, Joseph Magero, Jonathan Fell, Chimwemwe Ngoma, Clive Bates, Dr. Kgosi Letlape, Dr. Vivian Manyeki and Dr. Tendai Mhizha.
Over 2,000 civil servants in the public sector have been interdicted for a variety of reasons, the majority of which are criminal in nature.
According to reports, some officers have been under interdiction for more than two years because such matters are still being investigated. Information reachingÂ WeekendPostÂ shows that local government, particularly councils, has the highest number of suspended officers.
In its annual report, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) revealed that councils lead in corrupt activities throughout the country, and dozens of council employees are being investigated for alleged corrupt activities. It is also reported that disciplined forces, including the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), police, and prisons, and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) have suspended a significant number of officers.
The Ministry of Education and Skills Development has also recorded a good number of teachers who have implicated in love relationships with students, while some are accused of impregnating students both in primary and secondary school. Regional education officers have been tasked to investigate such matters and are believed to be far from completion as some students are dragging their feet in assisting the investigations to be completed.
This year, Mmadinare Senior Secondary reportedly had the highest number of pregnancies, especially among form five students who were later forcibly expelled from school. Responding to this publicationâ€™s queries, Permanent Secretary to the Office of the President Emma Peloetletse said, â€śas you might be aware, I am currently addressing public servants across the length and breadth of our beautiful republic. Due to your detailed enquiry, I am not able to respond within your schedule,â€ť she said.
She said some of the issues raised need verification of facts, some are still under investigation while some are still before the courts of law.
Meanwhile, it is close to six months since the Police Commissioner Keabetwe Makgophe, Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) Tymon Katlholo and the Deputy Director of the DIS Tefo Kgothane were suspended from their official duties on various charges.
Efforts to solicit comment from trade unions were futile at the time of going to press.
Some suspended officers who opted for anonymity claimed that they have close to two years while on suspension. One stated that the investigations that led him to be suspended have not been completed.
â€śIt is heartbreaking that at this time the investigations have not been completed,â€ť he toldÂ WeekendPost, adding that â€śwhen a person is suspended, they get their salary fully without fail until the matter is resolvedâ€ť.
Makgophe, Katlholo and Kgothane are the three most high-ranking government officials that are under interdiction.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and some senior government officials are abuzz with reports that President Mokgweetsi Masisi has requested his Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane not to contest the next general elections in 2024.