THE Ministry of Health has revealed that it currently owes suppliers of drugs about K2.2 billion.

And Health Minister Sylvia Masebo says the public holds a view that the country’s health sector has collapsed.

Meanwhile, Masebo says the Ministry should break away from secrecy.

Speaking during a familiarisation meeting, Tuesday, University Teaching Hospital (UTH) Director of Clinical Care and Diagnostics services Dr Alex Makupe said the Ministry had over the years struggled to meet the demand for drugs.

“Drugs, hospitals are judged by what they can provide. Therefore, the supply chain is key to the outcome of our patients. Over the years we have struggled to meet the demands in as far as drugs are concerned. The department currently, as a Ministry, we owe the suppliers a debt of K2.2 billion. If we were supported well, our yearly budget, we should be in the area of K5 billion yearly towards drugs and medical supplies. If the department is given K5 billion, that would go towards buying machines and processes for keeping patients like dialysis, support towards mobilizing drugs and drug products. All these things require a lot of resources getting into the Ministry of Health. Therefore, we hope that we will be supported in that way. We have different types of levels of drugs that we provide. One is drugs that can work at the primary health level, this we call the health centre kits. We need about 480 kits every month across the nation,” said Dr Makupe.

And Masebo said the public was of the view that the country’s health sector had collapsed.

“I think the complaints that have come through to our Ministry is one; lack of drugs, whether it be at a small clinic, at a community, or even the UTH and Levy, the complaints have been the same. As I sit here, the view of the public is that our health system has collapsed, that is the view of an ordinary person. The second point related to the drugs is the equipment. When you go to the hospital for a simple X-ray, you are told the X-ray machine is down. If a hospital tells me a machine is down it is as good as saying ‘we don’t have it’. Then those in Chongwe, at the [district] Hospital, they are told to go to Chelstone or to Levy,” Masebo said.

“Remember we are in a situation or in an environment where our economy is also at its lowest. And when we talk of income, people have no money. Here is a patient who has no money to jump on a bus to come to Lusaka to access that important equipment that is required in the process of offering health.”

Masebo added that the health sector was at its lowest, compared to the time when she was at the ministry years ago.

“So, the position basically is that we don’t have machines and equipment in most of our health centres. We are at our lowest. If I take the time I was here, which is about 10 years or so, it seems we have become worse than that time. That is my personal assessment, just in the few days I have been here, in the few years I have been away, what we hear on the ground from the public, is that we don’t have equipment. I am glad that the President himself, our manifesto has recognised that challenge of no drugs, no equipment in our health facilities. The good news is that the new government does appreciate the need for resources to be increased, the budget to the health sector should be increased,” she said.

And Masebo said corruption had dented the image of the Ministry.

“The other side is that even with the current amounts of money that has been given to this sector, there is an issue of mismanagement, misapplication, misappropriation. That is an internal matter that requires to be dealt with even before we ask for more resources. There is no point getting more resources even when the little money you are getting is being misapplied, being misappropriated. I think that is an area that has given us a very bad name as a sector, so much that all the good things you are doing have been overshadowed,” she said.

“It is very difficult to make a good name but it is very easy to destroy your name. It looks like this issue of misapplication, misappropriation and general mismanagement and corruption seems to be the image that the Ministry of Health has attained. So, we need to move from that, that is an issue that has been articulated that there will be zero tolerance.”

Masebo further told officials at the Ministry to break away from secrecy.

“One of the things that we should break away from is secrecy even when there is no need. We are a public institution, we are an institution that needs to get to the grassroot to appreciate our work so that in the long run we can achieve our objectives. Let us as much as possible run a transparent government, one of the issues of good governance is participation of the citizens,” said Masebo.