MINISTRY of Health permanent secretary in charge of administration Kakulubelwa Mulalelo says Dr Chitalu Chilufya’s corruption case has not affected the fight against COVID-19 in any way.

And Mulalelo says donations from corporations and well wishers had slowed down because there were no daily COVID-19 updates, not because of fears of misappropriation.

Meanwhile, Mulalelo has insisted that delays in the release of COVID-19 results is as a result of shortages of reagents.

Mulalelo, who struggled to categorically determine whether or not Dr Chilufya’s corruption case had negatively affected the COVID-19 fight, was speaking when she appeared before the Budget Committee in Lusaka, Thursday.

The committee is currently scrutinising the K15.1 billion supplementary budget unveiled by Finance Minister Dr Bwalya Ng’andu last Wednesday.

Mulalelo was responding to Chairman of the Committee, who is also Mbala PF member of parliament Mwalimu Simfukwe, who asked if Dr Chilufya’s court case had any impact on the Ministry’s fight against COVID-19 following her earlier revelation that donations towards tackling the virus had reduced.

“PS, you have mentioned that donations have reduced, obviously, there are reasons behind that. But we have been receiving a lot of concern from members of the public as a Committee and it has been a shared concern in this Committee that you have your commander, your general of the COVID war, attending court sessions. The top leader of the campaign against COVID has got matters, now, you are saying the donations have dried up. Would you reassure us, PS, as controlling officer that the fact that the very hard working Minister has been brought before court on matters some of which appear to connect to financial aspects has not affected the battle against COVID now that the top leader of this campaign has to attend to court and also has to command the troops against the COVID battle? Please assure the Committee and the nation that the court matters has not affected the campaign against COVID,” Simfukwe asked.

In her response, Mulalelo observed that the reduced donations were as a result of the reduced daily updates where most donations were made.

“Honourable chair, we have systems that are in place, we have a command centre under Zambia National Public Health Institute that runs with the response. When I made reference to donations reducing, you may have observed that there was a period within which updates were not being given out and most of the donations that we were receiving were as a result of various corporate entities that were making donations through the updates. Ever since we resumed the updates, our corporate entities have been coming forward and the various donations have been announced and mostly in the form of sanitizers and PPEs,” Mulalelo replied.

But Simfukwe, who was not satisfied with the response, repeated his question on whether the struggle to contain COVID-19 had been affected by Dr Chitalu’s corruption case in court.

“Has the battle against COVID-19 been affected by your top leader, the Minister of Health’s matters with the courts?” he asked.

After a brief, uncomfortable silence and what seemingly sounded like a technical glitch, Mulalelo insisted that the Ministry remained committed to upholding good governance.

“Honourable chair, as a Ministry, we are committed to uphold good governance in the response towards COVID and….,” she replied, before being cut off by another technical glitch.

“Honourable chair, I did state that we have the Zambia National Public Health Institute that is responsible…”

After a failed second attempt to address his main concern, Simfukwe stressed on the need for Mulalelo to categorically reply and provide clarity to the nation on the state of the country’s health systems.

“Honourable PS, I know that the Honourable Minister is the political head of the campaign against COVID, but you have technocrats like yourself everywhere, we are aware of that. What I am asking is: has his court matters, some of which appear to link to financial matters, have those slowed down the COVID campaign or affected the COVID campaign in any way? If not, the nation would like to be assured that everything remains the same and the campaign is in full throttle, there is no problem, that’s all we want to know and we want to reassure the country. Your campaign against COVID, has it been affected positively or negatively by the fact that the Minister of Health is undergoing a court process and with matters that are connected with resources. Please just give us the situation as it is at the Ministry of Health, and we are reading reports in the media that the health system has collapsed! So, when you have a chance like now when the whole country is watching, it’s a chance to reassure the nation that everything is okay or not,” emphasised Simfukwe.

And in response, Mulalelo said Dr Chilufya was not affected by his ongoing corruption case as they were unrelated to the Ministry, but again failed to provide a categorical response as to whether or not it had affected government’s COVID-19 response.

“Honourable chair, thank you very much. Like I said, the Ministry of Health is committed towards good governance, and the Honourable Minister is not affected in any way by the matters that are in court as they are not related to the Ministry of Health. And in response towards the COVID fight, it’s being handled under a multi-sectoral approach and is going as expected,” she argued.

Meanwhile, Mulalelo highlighted the cost of testing kits as she outlined the need for adequate resources to effectively support the COVID-19 relief efforts.

“Honourable chair, I will give just some indicative costs of some of the items that we use in the process. For example, one swab costs approximately US $4 together with the transport medium. One test kit costs between US $20 to US $30 and for that test to be done, we need to extract, and an extraction kit consisting of 250 extractions costs about K48,000. So, on those costs, I have not added that cost, for example, of the platforms that are required for us to process the testing. Those platforms, including the reagents, the laboratory reagents, those have not been costed that’s why you see that this whole process requires adequate resources in order to support it. So, as a Ministry, we need adequate resources for us to do mass testing,” Mulalelo said.

In response to a separate question, she revealed that the number of COVID-19 donations had reduced.

“The PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) that we distributed are those that we received following donations from various corporate entities, those are the ones that we gave to the various MPs to assist us in terms of distribution across the country. Honourable members, I am sure you have noticed that the number of donations have reduced from our corporate entities, hence the reason why they also suspended distribution through the various constituencies. When the donations do improve, we will also be in a position to support the constituencies in terms of giving them additional PPEs for distribution,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mulalelo reported to the Committee that the average time for one to get results was three to four days and that delays were only caused by lack of testing reagents.

“The average lead time is three to four days. We have received reports of it taking much longer and we are looking into expediting the process of processing the tests. Sometimes, it takes longer because we run out of reagents to process. Otherwise, the average time is three to four days,” said Mulalelo.