Editorial Comment: Health minister should not grandstand

Editorial Comment

BARELY four days after Mashonaland West province raised an SOS on the shortage of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), Health minister Obadiah Moyo had the temerity to tell the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on HIV and Aids that the country had adequate supplies of ARVs stocked up at National Pharmaceutical Company (NatPharm) to last until the first quarter of 2020.

This is despite reports that integrated TB and HIV centres in some parts of the country were struggling for supplies of Ab a-lam, with others dispensing expired life-saving drugs as a stop-gap measure.

That the country has a perennial shortage of the precious lifesaving drugs is not a secret and neither is the fact that NatPharm is mired in distribution challenges which have seen some drugs expiring before reaching their intended beneficiaries.

Moyo’s claims are shallow considering the fact that supply of the medicines is still dependent on foreign aid through the Global Fund.

For years, the government has relied heavily on foreign aid, a situation which puts patients in a precarious position should the donors decide to pull the plug and stop their funding.

A recent fact-finding tour of NatPharm by the parliamentary committee revealed that the warehouse was still dependent on donor supplies for its stocks.

People’s lives are on the line and it defies all logic that a whole minister, who claims to be the custodian of the Health ministry, will embark on cheap politicking to save his face. It makes a whole lot of sense to be honest and report facts as they are. Hiding behind a façade will not alleviate the sad situation.

A top United Nations official on Monday said about 1,1 million people living with HIV were struggling to access anti-retroviral medication in the Cyclone Idai-distressed countries, which include Zimbabwe.

In essence, it means Zimbabwe has a bigger challenge, which is being compounded by officials who “cook up” figures and facts so they might appear like they are working hard.

Maybe the minister needs to be reminded that the million-plus lives that depend on ARVs are hanging in the balance as he goes around presenting a perfect scenario when on the ground, nothing has really changed.

We understand his pressure to outdo his predecessors, but at what cost? Wouldn’t it be better to raise the red flag and get help than pretend it is all under control when clearly it is not. His ministry is going to the dogs with serious health disasters looming at every corner.

Moyo is a likeable character, no doubt, but real commitment backed by real resources and action is what the people of Zimbabwe expect of the good minister. Let us promptly sort out the drug situation before embarking on ambitious programmes of turning public health facilities into state-of-the-art hospitals with empty drug shelves.