MINISTER of Health Dr Jonas Chanda has revealed that his ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, is re-engaging Missionpharma so that they can take up supplying drugs and other medical products which will not harm the people.

And Dr Chanda says the Ministry is not overwhelmed by the recent scandals, insisting that he was appointed with a task to bring back confidence in the health sector.

Speaking when he featured on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview, Dr Chanda said the country did not want substandard drugs, medicines and medical products supplied to the Zambian people.

“I must assure Zambians, even as we talk today, I know that government working through UNICEF, we have received a number of health centre kits with drugs and others but we are also looking at the drug issue very seriously. We have Missionpharma, one of our key partners who had been supplying to Zambia, we have engaged them very actively, ourselves, Ministry of Finance, to make sure that we continue because again, we don’t want substandard drugs, medicines and medical products, we want drugs that will come, which are of high quality, that will not harm our people, that will be safe, that will be effective,” he said.

“It’s a top priority for government. Government wants to ensure that every facility from a rural health post, health centre, a clinic, a first level hospital, district level hospital, provincial, tertiary, up to the super specialist hospital, we have to have drugs in the facilities, that is a major issue by government and this issue, even the President gives it top priority. I was with the Minister of Finance just the day before yesterday talking about this issue, funding mechanism, there is a lot that is being done to address the drug situation.”

He observed that some of the issues the Ministry was facing were system-based.

“Some of them are systemic issues like what we are talking about, our procurement system. Is our procurement system fit to make sure that we have a stable supply chain? Number two, it’s the changes that we have done to move procurement to ZAMMSA because ZAMMSA is basically why we have all these experts in supply chain, global supply chain management systems and all that. So we have to support them. So it’s also about systems, you may have the money but the systems are not there, you may have the systems and the money but the human resources are not there. So we are taking that holistic approach and we are working with cooperating partners,” Dr Chanda said.

And Dr Chanda said his ministry was not overwhelmed by corruption and mismanagement allegations, insisting that the reorganisation currently taking place would rebuild efficiency.

“Far from it, we are not overwhelmed. That is why the President had to make the changes he had to make and that’s why the President had to put me there because he has confidence that with his support, we can get things running because it is the core mandate of the Ministry of Health to provide quality health services to the Zambian people, to help them not to harm them, that is the core mandate…so now if you look at, I will start with reorganisation, in any organisation, reorganisation can happen, whether it’s in a ministry, whether it’s in a private company, anywhere and the whole purpose of re-organisation is to create what we call lean management and efficiency. You ask yourself, are we efficient with the current organisational structure or are we going to be more efficient if we trim it, we focus resources in line with our national decentralisation policy. Resources have to be here, the services are offered, what’s the point of having a lot of doctors in a ministry when the doctors are needed at a hospital, at a clinic out there,” he said.

“The reorganisation is focused on achieving universal health coverage, improving service delivery. For us, no reorganisation is person-centred like to sort out this or that individual, it’s always that the ultimate, the end user, are the patients going to be served better or not.”

He said that the expiry of drugs at Medical Stores was caused by a lot of factors, adding that most of the issues which were raised by the Auditor General were mainly lack of compliance to already laid down laws and regulations.

“No one buys expired drugs but it’s a mirage of factors. You can look at procurement, that is now procurement systems that we are in. You know, there are laws in the country that guide, whether it’s financial systems, we have the finance act, we have the ZPPA act which by the way is also being looked at. So there are pieces of laws and legislation and when you read the Auditor General’s report, the issues that have been raised is lack of compliance to laws and regulations that are already in place,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Minister said allowing COVID-19 to overshadow other diseases might reverse the gains made in fighting them.

“Let’s not let COVID-19 overshadow the other diseases otherwise we may drift away, you win on COVID-19 then you lose on everything else. So we are doing that balanced approach. So I must assure Zambians that the focus on COVID-19 has not overshadowed the other challenges that we have in the health sector and I think everyone can attest to that, that is our approach. By the way, there are also what we call co-morbidities, the outcomes in COVID-19 cases are worse when there are other underlying illnesses that I have talked about,” Dr Chanda said.

“The policy of the Ministry of Health is a holistic approach towards health care, we are not a disease specific Ministry of Health. It’s holistic and that’s what I have been saying, we have to look at all disease burdens that we have, the infectious diseases, HIV, TB, malaria, those are major ones that we are working towards elimination. Just yesterday we had all these huge meetings talking about Zambia’s achievements in the management of HIV, the TB, we are working towards TB elimination by the year 2025/2026. Malaria, which is becoming resurgent, we are working towards elimination of malaria, then you come to the cardiovascular diseases which are non-communicable diseases which account for 27 percent of mortality, we are looking at them aggressively and in all our engagements with our cooperating partners, all key stakeholders, that is the message that I always highlight.”

Dr Chanda said it was the responsibility of health sector players to guide political parties ahead of the general elections, noting that COVID-19 was not a respecter of political affiliations.

“We are talking about a generalised pandemic in 116 districts. You know, COVID-19 does not know which political party you belong to, it does not care which tribe you are, which region you come from. If you go to the facilities, our patients who are sick, there is no such identity, they are just Zambians, human beings, so because of that, it is the responsibility of the health sector players to guide all the players…So I am happy to announce that we will have a meeting I think on Monday with the Electoral Commission of Zambia to basically outline what should be the guidance in terms of the public rallies because these are campaign rallies when politicians meet. Even in terms of conducting the elections themselves. So that is the meeting that we are having with ECZ, both the executive director, their board, myself and the whole team and the country will be updated,” said Dr Chanda.