HEALTH Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya has refuted reports that his Ministry mismanaged K1.3 billion worth of COVID-19 funds, saying the Ministry never received the funds.

And Dr Chilufya has called on citizens to maintain high levels of hygiene to avoid a cholera outbreak in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking during the weekly COVID-19 briefing in Lusaka, Wednesday, Dr Chilufya said there were some attempts to misrepresent audit data.

He was reacting to revelations by an Interim Audit Report that disclosed that a total of over K1.3 billion was misapplied, which included dubious transfers from GRZ accounts to commercial bank accounts amounting to K60 million.

“It is at this particular juncture that I should bemoan the well-orchestrated attempt to blemish the fight against COVID-19 through misrepresentation of audit data. Our silence, as a sector, should not be misconstrued for guilt. The Ministry of Health has dedicated professionals who have worked tirelessly and continue to work tirelessly to safeguard the country from the ravaging effects of COVID-19. And the fact that the way we are where we are today doesn’t mean it happened out of the blues, we are still fighting COVID-19 and health workers risk their lives, they are fatigued and there is a lot that we need to do for them and the least we expect are accusations of fraud. We take great exception and the right to appeal to all stakeholders to exercise restraint as renegade media and social media, renegade certain sections of the media and social media peddling falsehoods. We have seen screaming headlines, such as ‘Ministry of Health mismanages K1.3 billion.’ We have never received K1.3 billion from anywhere! You must have the money to mismanage it. So, it’s shameful lie,” Dr Chilufya said.

“The Ministry of Health, working outside procurement guidelines, we have all the documentation, even if we are working within the public health emergency, we have ensured that we have worked within the law to ensure that emergency procurements are done and this is all meant just to protect the country from COVID-19. Drawing money from the Treasury without authority? That is incredibly shocking! The Ministry of Health or any other Ministry does not sign up on Treasury, it’s the preserve of the Ministry of Finance, and when the resources are drawn, it is with Treasury Authority. That we are fighting COVID-19 as a public health emergency then we are not following the law and all the relevant formalities are in place. These orchestrated attempts to blemish the fight against COVID-19 by not highlighting the successes of the fight against COVID-19, but just peddling falsehoods to decoy the public from the successes of the fight against COViD-19, must be frowned upon by all well-meaning citizens. The health workers out there, with their multi-sectoral partners, continue to work under very difficult circumstances, with their lives at risk and, indeed, when the saying goes uwakwensha ubushiku, bamutasha ngabwacha (the one who drives at night is only appreciated in the morning). We need to really hold our hands and give solidarity to those colleagues, who are working at the frontlines.”

He insisted that the fraud allegations should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

“These screaming headlines of billions of kwacha being mismanaged must be discarded with the contempt that they deserve! And it’s important that we do not even distort the contribution that the media made to the fight against COVID-19 because the media has been partners of the government and the Ministry of Health in the dissemination of key messages to fight COVID-19, and the media have done an exceedingly good job in that state and we will not allow renegade colleagues out there to distort the good works of the media and the good intentions of the media,” he said.

And Dr Chilufya stressed that good hygiene and access to clean water remained key in avoiding cholera.

“We are just beginning the rainy season and we may experience challenges of water sanitation, and, therefore, predispose ourselves to the risk of COVID-19. Let us prevent the possibility of the co-morbidity of COVID-19. The head immunity that we have been talking about should be weaning three years down the line after we did mass immunisation for cholera. It’s important that that is not limited as the core intervention. The core intervention is hygiene, access to clean and safe water. The Republican President, Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, has steered a social movement for sanitation and has also emphasised in his policy statement in the sector: universal access to clean and safe water. That is the intent to eradicate cholera. Zambia is a member of the Global Task Force to eliminate cholera, globally, and it is important that all of us hear the call of the Republican President to heighten sanitation, hygiene in this rainy season so we can avoid the possibility of the co-morbidities of COVID-19 and cholera,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr Chilufya announced that Zambia recorded 37 new COVID-19 cases out of 6,857 tests done in the last 24 hours from Wednesday.

“Zambia in the last 24 hours has recorded 37 new cases of COVID-19 and this is out of 6,857 tests done in the last 24 hours. This brings the total number of cases to 17,280 cases with 16,495 recoveries. Unfortunately, we have lost 356,” said Dr Chilufya.

The Minister further urged citizens to avoid taking antibiotics without authority from a medical practitioner and warned pharmacists to only dispense antibiotics to those with a prescription in a bid to avoid microbial resistance in the country.