FORMER Health Minister Dr Brian Chituwo has commended President Hakainde Hichilema for appointing Dr Roma Chilengi as his COVID-19 advisor.

And Dr Chituwo says revelations that the Ministry of Health owes K2.2 billion to suppliers of drugs is an indication that Health Minister Sylvia Masebo has inherited a sick Ministry.

In an interview, Dr Chituwo said it was important for State House to have a link between various Ministries and spending agencies.

“It is very important to have a link between State House and various Ministries and spending agencies. COVID-19 affects all aspects of human life, because of that there will be so many activities in the name of COVID being undertaken by various sectors, NGOs and so on. So, in order to have a strong link, I commend the President for that appointment. He has focused on one of the issues I have said will for some time come to affect the livelihood of the people of Zambia,” Dr Chituwo said.

“So, it is a very good appointment. First of all, he is a researcher so the right questions will be asked as indeed whether we are all moving in the same direction. So that is commendable, just like you can compare it to project and monitoring at State House, that too is very important.”

When asked about stakeholders’ concerns on what would become of the new position once COVID-19 was eradicated, Dr Chituwo said President Hichilema had the power to administratively abolish the office or to change it depending on the situation.

“Well, since we don’t know how long COVID will take, why not handle the issues as it is now. When that five years come, we will cross the bridge when it comes. The President will have the power to administratively abolish it or change it, whatever the situation dictates. So, for now there is definitely a need,” he said.

And Dr Chituwo said the revelations that the Ministry of Health owed K2.2 billion to suppliers of drugs was frightening.

“That figure was frightening, those figures were frightening, my view is that the first question we have to ask is that how genuine are those debts? I think the Minister of Health should really question that ‘can you really show me whether these are genuine debts’? When we have the correct figures, I suspect it is not, when we have the correct figures then we should start tackling the issue from that point of view. I am aware that for some time now the superintendent of Cancer Disease Hospital Dr [Lewis] Banda when the previous minister was there, was it Dr Jonas Chanda, he bemoaned the fact that he had not had a grant for medicines for three years,” he said.

“So, they used their general grant to buy a few chemotherapy drugs. Now this goes to show that for a long time these professions managing these institutions have had to use their initiatives to get essential drugs, drugs required for specific diseases. One of the things which is clear like [at the] Cancer Disease Hospital, is asking patients to buy these expensive drugs. Many of them believe you me, have not been able to buy those expensive drugs. The result, the diseases have gotten out of control and ultimately death.”

Dr Chituwo said Masebo had inherited a sick Ministry.

“So, honourable Masebo has inherited as supposed as many other areas a really sick Ministry. But determined as she is, I think with the cooperation of the staff, they should get to the bottom of that,” he said.

When asked to comment on remarks that the current Cabinet was more like that of the MMD regime, Dr Chituwo said President Hichilema should be able to tap into any citizen as long as they had the knowledge and skills to move the country forward.

“What are these labels we are giving each other? These are Zambians. We should be able to tap into any citizen who has the knowledge and skills to move our country forward. So what if they were from [MMD], then we can say we were all UNIP. I am not sure what point they are driving that. If you are saying these are MMD and therefore they failed, I think the Mwanawasa’s era, honestly citizens can attest to that we did our best and delivered. So shouldn’t that be applauded to say we have got experience?” asked Dr Chituwo.