Mr Speaker, Honourable Members, I am happy to address this august house on recent developments in our public health sector that have left many unsettled and uncertain about how the future of the public health system is panning out. These are issues relating to among others, availability of medications in the country and also issues relating to health professionals and their continued service to the people of this great republic.
I wish to begin my address by informing this august house and indeed the nation that following the updates on availability of medications in the country that I made in the past parliament sessions, there has been good progress in that area. I can speak confidently, that the steps that we took then, to avail medications in the country, as I did apprise this house in the past, have significantly improved our medications availability situation in the country.
I am happy that we currently have an acceptable supply of all major medications that were not available for most of last year and the beginning of this year. These include medications for chronic conditions like Hypertension, Cancer, Diabetes and others.
As honourable members will recall, most vaccines like those for children and other Extended Programme of Immunisation (EPI) vaccines, Anti-Retroviral Vaccines (ARVs), anti-diarrhoeal medications and Tuberculosis (TB) medications, have largely been available in good supply, even during the time when the situation was dire for other medications.
I therefore, would like to assure Batswana that the Government has been largely successful in bringing medications to the country, despite the difficult situation that we were experiencing, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now common cause that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened medication supply globally. Developing countries like Botswana which currently have fewer or no medications manufacturing plants, were the hardest hit.
I therefore, Mr Speaker, wish to take this opportunity to thank Batswana for their patience as we know that this was a very difficult time. I further, want to assure them that we are taking this issue of medications availability seriously and that we are doing all in our power to ensure continued supply of all medications in our facilities.
Despite the progress made in the medications supply area as already alluded, I wish to open up and share with this august house that for the past two months, my ministry has been grappling with some disruptions to service delivery in the public health space. This mainly related to some issues of health professionals welfare.
Some months ago, Government successfully negotiated and agreed with Botswana Doctors Union for amongst others, payment of call allowance. In recent weeks, Government received notice from the Botswana Nurses Union that their members will no longer dispense medications in public health facilities because they felt that continuing to do so would offend certain legislations. In line with this notice, most nurses and midwives have not been dispensing medications in most health facilities since the 1st of July 2023.
I cannot deny that this has affected service delivery in our health facilities. This is indeed unfortunate because, Batswana suffered some months ago, when there were no medications in the country and they are suffering again now, when medications are now available.
In order to address this situation Mr Speaker, we immediately instructed our legal teams to look at the laws for any possible remedy. We also embarked on an aggressive recruitment exercise for Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians. So far, more than 100 Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians have been recruited to help dispense medications in public health facilities. Our DHMTs have therefore, made arrangements for Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians to dispense medications in our clinics on certain times and days.
I accept that this short term arrangement has severely inconvenienced our people and has in some cases caused congestion at health facilities as people wait longer to get their medications.
Let me hasten to mention that we only have a few Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians in the market. In the coming weeks, we would have exhausted the Botswana market. However, we would still not have been able to replace all nurses and midwives that have been dispensing medications from as long ago as the birth of our health system. Our local tertiary institutions do not produce enough Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians who can be engaged to serve our people. We need close to a thousand Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians to have all our clinics and health facilities adequately covered. Given the shortage of these professionals in the market, including regionally, as alluded, it may take up to five years to have these numbers, if we were to just rely on recruitment of Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians.
Going forward, my ministry has engaged relevant stakeholders for conversations on getting these issues resolved. Although Government was not able to reach an agreement with the Botswana Doctors Union on all contentious issues last week, we are hopeful that we should eventually find common ground. I anticipate discussions with the unions for nurses and other allied professions in the health sector to also lead us to an amicable solution.
I want to take this opportunity to assure Batswana and all residents of this country that we are aware of the current challenges in the health sector and we will resolve them sooner than later. We remain committed to seeing Batswana receive quality health services and within a reasonable time. We will not rest until all these are in place.
Mr Speaker, honourable members, I also want to take this opportunity to appeal to all health care workers, to exercise restraint. They come far with our health system. They have sacrificed a lot in the past, including recently during the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot forget the huge sacrifices they made for all of us to survive. We also cannot ignore any challenges and concerns that they have in their conditions of service including legal impediments as the case may be. I therefore, want to appeal to them to continue their service to their country and people. They should continue to strive to save lives as they have done before. Indeed motlha ono o tla a feta.
I also wish to call upon you all to support my ministry efforts to have all these issues resolved. Together we can take our health sector to the next level. I advise all of you honourable members, to reflect on these issues objectively, because it is our constituents that we want to be served. We should therefore, support efforts being made and encourage health care workers, who are also our constituents to continue serving their mothers, fathers, relatives, friends and fellow country men and women, while their issues are being resolved. Indeed motlha ono o tla a feta.
– Assistant Minister of Health Setlhomo Lelatisitswe