. . . as Motebang Hospital opens case against staffers who illegally offered Covid vaccines for money
Mohalenyane Phakela / Limpho Sello
EIGHT Motebang Hospital staffers could soon be arrested for allegedly corruptly administering Covid-19 vaccines to ineligible people, mainly foreign nationals, in exchange for monetary payments.
This after the hospital management heeded the Ministry of Health’s directive to open a case with the police in connection with the scandal which was first reported by the Sunday Express’ sister Lesotho Times publication last month.
The hospital began rolling out the second phase of the mass vaccination programme on 2 August 2021. However, the programme had to be suspended on 12 August after the Public Health Nurse, Mamoferefere Zim, discovered that some ineligible people were being made to pay M400 fee each to be jabbed.
At the time, health ministry sources said eight hospital staffers were involved in the scandal. Motebang Hospital Medical Superintendent, Motjope Motjope, subsequently referred all questions to Leribe District Administrator, Mr Mohobelo, who confirmed that hospital staffers had been vaccinating ineligible people, especially Chinese and Indian nationals, in return for cash payments.
Mr Mohobelo had however, admitted that he did not know the full extent of the jabs-for-cash activities, adding that investigations were ongoing.
In an interview with the Sunday Express over the weekend, the health ministry’s Director General, Nyane Letsie, said the scandal was far deeper as it involved far more people than just the Motebang staffers.
Some of the suspects were not even civil servants hence the decision to open a criminal case instead of dealing with the matter internally, Dr Letsie said.
She said the case was opened with the Hlotse police in Leribe.
“We then ordered the hospital management to open a case with the police because the matter involves a lot of people, including some of which are not Basotho.
The case has already been opened but I cannot comment further as we are awaiting feedback from the police,” Dr Letsie said.
Police Spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, yesterday said he could not comment on the issue as he did not have full details on the case.
Although there is no law against any locals or foreign nationals being vaccinated, the vaccination campaign is being rolled out in phases and certain categories of people including those with terminal conditions were given first priority when the government began jabbing people.
The first phase kicked off in March this year in Maseru with essential workers such as health and media practitioners being jabbed with 36 000 AstraZeneca vaccines that were donated by various development partners through the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The ministry also vaccinated the elderly and those with life-threatening conditions like HIV and AIDS and tuberculosis.
During the months of June and July, these groups received their second and final doses after another 36 000 AstraZeneca vaccines were donated by France for the second phase of the vaccination programme.
When the second phase got underway on 2 August 2021, the government and the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) both announced that they were targeting people with terminal conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.
Others who would also be vaccinated are clothing and textile workers, the mining sector, law enforcement officials, teachers and students as well as Ministry of Home Affairs officials.
The vaccines were being administered free of charge to those in the qualifying categories.
However, Motebang Hospital was last month forced to suspend the vaccination programme after Ms Zim got wind of the illicit jabs-for-cash scandal at the facility.
The matter came to light after one of the nurses reported it to Ms Zim and the hospital authorities who then ordered the vaccination programme to be suspended.
The allegations are that the vaccines were sold to locals and foreign nationals, mostly Chinese, Pakistanis and Indians, who are not in the categories of people being vaccinated under the second phase.
The ‘beneficiaries’ would be told to arrive very early in the morning and they would be taken to a secret location within the hospital away from prying eyes as they were illegally jabbed in exchange for payment.
“They would be injected in the medical examination room to ensure that they would not be seen by anyone,” a source said.
“Each person was charged M400 for a jab. I am not sure how many people had paid for the vaccines by the time the staffers were caught. The illegal practice had been going for days when the staffers were caught. The Public Health Nurse (Ms Zim) got wind of the illegal acts and immediately reported to her superiors.
“There are eight people involved in this scandal including the head of the injections department who was also receiving the illegal payments. Two of the staffers who were not on the government payroll were immediately dismissed while the other six, including the head of the injections department, are still at work awaiting a disciplinary hearing.”
Mr Mohobelo subsequently confirmed that hospital staffers had been vaccinating ineligible people, especially Chinese and Indian nationals, in return for payments.
“When investigations were conducted by the hospital it was found that those who were being illegally jabbed did not meet the vaccination criteria. People who were prioritised were those with comorbidities (more than one terminal condition),” Mr Mohobelo said.
NACOSEC CEO, ‘Malitaba Litaba, had vowed to follow up on the issue to ensure the culprits are brought to book.
Dr Litaba said drastic, punitive measures had to meted out on the perpetrators because they had abused the trust placed on them to run the country’s health system.
“This goes to show how much the Ministry of Health is failing to manage health professionals because most of them have turned health facilities into their play grounds. This is really sad and it says the management is failing to control health professionals.
“How can a health professional have the audacity to sell consumables that are meant to save people’s lives? This shows that health professionals in the country are unruly and are not ashamed to be involved in criminal activities,” Dr Litaba said.
The forthright CEO said the corruption would only frustrate NACOSEC’s efforts to fight the deadly pandemic.
“Vaccinations are one of the strategies that Lesotho and other countries are employing to fight Covid-19. It is therefore sad that such efforts are being derailed by the same health professionals who are supposed to be leading the fight against the pandemic.
“It is my hope that the hospital management will ensure that the culprits are brought to book,” Dr Litaba said.
Incidentally, Leribe, where the jabs-for-cash scandal unfolded, is the district hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
NACOSEC said the high rates of infections had been recorded in schools and factories. This prompted the government to begin the second phase of its mass vaccination campaign in the district before rolling it out to other districts.