SWEDISH Ambassador to Zambia Anna Maj Hultgård has commended President Hakainde Hichilema’s government on its stance against corruption as well as its pledge to ensure transparency and accountability in the country.

And Health Minister Sylvia Masebo says the UPND government will ensure that the health sector is corruption-free and that it has the highest levels of accountability and integrity.

Speaking when the Swedish delegation paid a courtesy call on Masebo, Monday, Ambassador Hultgård said government’s efforts to ensure that all the support coming from the Swedish taxpayers was carefully utilised were appreciated.

She said her government would look into the possibility of supporting essential medicines in the Health Ministry.

“We very much appreciate your government under the leadership of President Hakainde Hichilema, the stress that you put on anti-corruption, the zero-tolerance, transparency and accountability. And that is of course of major importance to us in all our engagements and collaborations with the Ministry of Health as well as other stakeholders here. That is much, very much appreciated. The efforts by the government to make sure that all the support coming from the Swedish taxpayers are [utilized] carefully. We are therefore convinced that our future collaboration will work very well. We share those values with you honorable minister,” said Ambassador Hultgård.

“We have taken note of your remarks and also the possibility to support essential medicines and I think that I may say so, that we are looking into that possibility. We have taken note of that request.”

And Swedish vice-minister for international development and cooperation Janine Ericson said Sweden was committed to supporting the advancement of gender equality.

“Sweden is fully committed to supporting the advancement of gender equality and the full enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. That means ensuring women, girls, adolescents and LGBTI persons to decide over their own bodies is a matter of human right. Given Zambia’s growing young population, it is crucial to keep young people with the knowledge needed to make health and informed choices about sex and relationships. It’s important that the health services are responsive to adolescent needs and ability to seek services. This includes safe and legal abortion services. Something I know you have in the law, but it also has to be implemented and also made easier, accessible,” said Ericson.

Meanwhile, Masebo asked the Swedish government to help Zambia procure health centre kits.

“Despite some progress made in the health sector, we still have challenges which our government has prioritised to address and we seek your cooperation and support. Top on our list of priorities is the essential medicines, vaccines, and other medical supplies. Our government is committed to increasing funding to this programme over time, but starting with this coming budget of 2022, we are committed to addressing both the outstanding debt and addressing the current needs. However, I request you to consider supporting us with the procurement of health center kits as it was before, which is the bedrock of our health care system, in addition to other prioritized supplies,” she said.

Masebo said the health sector was currently operating at 50 percent capacity of the staff establishment, which posed a challenge in delivering quality health services.

She also assured the Swedish government of a health sector which was free from corruption.

“The health sector is currently operating at 50 percent capacity of the staff establishment posing a challenge in delivering quality health services. As a government, we are committed and we intend to use some funding in our 2022 budget towards addressing part of this challenge. But we would love support in this area, additional support will go a long way in improving our health services. Honourable minister, as a new government, we will ensure that the health sector is corruption-free, has the highest levels of accountability, transparency and integrity. I assure you and the Zambian people that all resources coming to the health sector will be put to good use for the benefit of our country,” the Health Minister said.

Masebo thanked the Swedish government for their support to the health sector over the years.

“Let me take this opportunity to state that the Swedish support to the health sector in Zambia over the years continues to be informed by local health priorities and I would like to commend you for this. One of our major public health challenges as a country is the high maternal, neonatal, child deaths and poor nutrition status of our children. We, therefore, appreciate that your government through SIDA started supporting the Ministry of Health through a grant worth US$ 44 million from 2015 up to March 2021. This support was to implement a reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, adolescent health and nutrition programme to improve the health of women, children and adolescents in Eastern and Southern provinces,” she said.

“This support has contributed greatly to improving the maternal, neonatal, child, adolescent health outcomes as shown in the Zambia demographic health survey of 2018. Let me state that despite these improvements, many challenges remain which require urgent attention. I am therefore gratified that on 1st July 2021, your government of Sweden committed to support Zambia with US$26 million to implement the people at the centre (peace) health programme from 2021 to 2024 again in the Southern and Eastern provinces.”

Masebo further thanked the Swedish government for supporting the health sector’s COVID- 19 response.

“We are committed to ensuring that this support builds on the health systems’ strengthening approach of the previous SIDA supported program for us to deliver quality, people-centred, rights-based and equity-focused services by the end of 2024 and in line with the government’s priorities in health. Honourable minister, let me further thank your government for supporting the health sector in the COVID-19 response and in the continuity of essential health services. A total of US$5.2 million was provided through UNICEF to procure essential medicines and supplies for reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health,” said Masebo.

“Further, oxygen concentrators for hospitals in Southern, Eastern, Luapula and Muchinga provinces, and rehabilitation of the oxygen plants at our hospitals has been undertaken through this support. This support has gone a long way in ensuring that even as we respond to COVID-19 we don’t neglect other essential health services.”