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Metsing calls for health sector overhaul


Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing
Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing

Bongiwe Zihlangu

DEPUTY Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing has called for an end to the business as usual approach in fighting child and maternal mortality to decisively nip the pandemics in the bud.

Mr Metsing made the remarks on Wednesday during a consultative meeting on health reform with principal chiefs, district administrators, council chairpersons, town clerks and district council secretaries among other officials. The meeting was meant to conscientise community leaders about government’s primary health revitalisation initiative, “No More Deaths in Lesotho”, which will be spearheaded by King Letsie III and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.

According to the deputy premier, the initiative – which is set to be launched in the next three weeks — would be implemented under the theme “Revitalising Primary Health Care because the life of every Mosotho matters for improved maternal health, reduced child mortality and reduction if the scourge of Tuberculosis and HIV”.

Mr Metsing said His Majesty and Dr Mosisili would engage stakeholders including church leaders, civic groups, the media, government ministries, development partners, chiefs, local councils and district administrators, among others, in their endeavour to ensure Lesotho turned the tide in fighting the pandemics.

The initiative is also in response to a 2014 United Nations Development Programme report stating that although the population of Lesotho has historically fared better in terms of health than many other sub-Saharan African countries, increasing poverty and the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, had rendered families more vulnerable to poor health challenges.

As vulnerable groups in society, the report said, women and children bore the biggest brunt of the diseases and poverty hence the high rates of child and maternal mortality.

Lesotho’s HIV-prevalence rate has remained stagnant at 23 percent but leapfrogged Botswana into second position because of the latter’s successes in lowering its prevalence rate from the previous 24.8 percent. Swaziland’s HIV-prevalence is 26 percent.

He said most Basotho women dreaded childbirth because of the high mortality risk caused by the poor health delivery system.

“Childbirth is a beautiful experience; it means an additional life because it is God’s will that we multiply. Childbirth is sacred and should make us happy. When mothers go to hospital to give birth, they look forward to holding their babies in their arms thereafter,” Mr Metsing said.

“However, in the case of Lesotho, women are no longer sure what to expect these days. When the time to give birth arrives, they don’t know what to think, they wonder if they and their babies will make it out alive. I had a child that died during childbirth and I know the pain of losing a life in that manner.

“What is even more saddening is that when tragedies occur in Lesotho, instead of going all out to fight them, we accept them as if they are normal. Even some health practitioners now take tragedies in their stride.”

He said it defied logic that Lesotho’s health delivery system had deteriorated despite efforts by government to invest the bulk of its budgetary allocations to the sector.

“We are told that of all the African countries, Lesotho is the only country which invests the bulk of its GDP in the health sector. But when you look at the outcomes, it is quite discouraging because there is no meaningful progress being made,” Mr Metsing said.

“We are number two globally in terms of HIV/AIDS prevalence, and when you get to local health centres, there is no medication because the bulk of the budget is centralised, instead of being distributed to the grassroots where health services are critically needed.”

He said the Global Fund had warned the government to reform its health sector before 2018, lest donor funds amounting to M3 million would not be availed.

The Global Fund mobilises and invests resources to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria around the world.

“This is why the King is worried that we are not making much headway. As leaders, we need to come together as a united force to tackle Lesotho’s health challenges and improve the health sector,” Mr Metsing said.

The government has also engaged Pitsong Institute of Implementation Research to lead the initiative by providing guidance and technical expertise for implementation purposes. In its findings, the non-governmental organisation noted that although Lesotho allocates 14 percent of its budget to health, the bulk of the resources are still centralised.

In his remarks, Pitsong Director, Mpopo Tšoele, said it was disheartening that Basotho were dying in large numbers to treatable diseases. He urged community leaders to go back to the drawing board and reestablish their specified roles and how they can contribute to the public health sector revitalisation project.

“It does not sit well with me that Basotho are dying from diseases such as Tuberculosis, HIIV/AIDS and others. But I take comfort in realising that the leadership of this country, including His Majesty King Letsie III, are up in arms and taking it upon themselves to turn the situation around,” Mr Tšoele said, adding that decentralisation of health information was the key to ensuring accountability at all levels of the health system.

“District administrators are representatives of the interests of government at district level. Principal chiefs, your responsibility is to manage the welfare and well-being of every Mosotho. Councilors, the law is there and is clear that you are responsible for public health.

“What we are merely saying is that for each one of you, and wherever you are, the expectation is that you play your assigned roles.”

Speaking at the same event, King Letsie III’s uncle, Chief Masupha Seeiso, called on government to enact regulations on the sales of harmful traditional “medicines” sold in drums around town “purporting to heal all sorts of ailments”.

“What is the Ministry of Health saying about this? Chief Seeiso queried. “I have got a suggestion for government through you DPM (Mr Metsing).  See to it that there are regulations to ensure we know who is doing what.

“I am a Mosotho and support traditional medicine. But I cannot support things that are detrimental to the nation. Some of these practices are not healthy at all.”

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