HEALTH Minister Sylvia Masebo on Tuesday told Parliament that government will deploy as many surgeons to the University Teaching Hospital and other tertiary facilities depending on the availability of funds.

The minister however struggled to give the exact number of medical surgeons government planned to deploy, asking for more time to gather information on the matter.

And Masebo says lack of funds has caused the delay in determining the efficacy of the Sondashi SF 2000 herbal drug as the estimated cost of undertaking phase two clinical trials is K7 million.

Responding to a question from Pemba UPND member of parliament Lameck Hamwaata, on whether government had any plans to deploy additional surgeons to the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka and how many surgeons were earmarked for deployment to the Hospital, Masebo asked for more time to gather information on the matter.

“Madam Speaker, through your indulgence, I would like to ask that I issue a comprehensive ministerial statement to deal with this issue on Thursday,” she said.

But her response prompted a point of order from Shiwang’andu PF member of parliament Stephen Kampyongo who wondered whether Masebo was in order to ask for more time when the question was on the Order Paper.

“Madam Speaker, it is a procedural point of order, the honourable Minister is a veteran, very experienced in this August House. The honourable Minister is not in order to refer the question which is already appearing on the order paper to a ministerial statement. What she can do probably is to leave certain matters that she can come and address. The fact that the question is on the order paper, the honourable Minister is not in order to avoid responding to a question as it appears on the order paper. It is not for the honourable Minister to decide as and when she can come and do a Ministerial statement. This is a matter that is under the jurisdiction of the Speaker,” he said.

Speaker of the National Assembly Nelly Mutti then ordered Masebo to provide answers to the extent that she would be able to.

“The honourable Minister of Health, since the question is already on the order paper, you are required to answer it, please do provide and answer to the extent that you are able to do so. The question is about additional surgeons, it is either they are there or not there and when the plans are going to be implemented,” she said.

In response, Masebo informed the House that government had plans to deploy additional surgeons to all tertiary hospitals, including UTH but added that the number of surgeons would be determined by the amount of money available.

“Madam Speaker, I just want to put on record that this is why I had asked for your permission, because I know that only the Speaker can make a decision, but now that you have made the decision, let me answer the question. Madam Speaker, government has plans to deploy additional surgeons to all tertiary hospitals in the country, including UTH hospital. Madam Speaker, government will implement the deployment of additional surgeons to UTH when the specific treasury authority for promotion provisions such as senior registrars and authorities is granted. The number of surgeons to be deployed will be determined by the amount of treasury authority that will be issued as such,” said Masebo.

“I wanted to help members of parliament so that they can have the sufficient [information when I noticed that this question will attract a lot of questions, which the public will also want to know. So I still seek your authority for Thursday so that some of these issues can be properly addressed in light of the people that are going to be employed. Through that ministerial statement, I am hoping that members can also help us to understand the situation where they are coming from in some instances and just clarity.”

Kampyongo, however, insisted that the questions on the order paper were sent to the Ministries in advance and that Ministers had enough time to gather information.

“Madam Speaker, these questions are sent to the Ministry well in advance and what is expected is that the period that it takes to process these questions, Ministers have time to gather information for the questions. We can’t start changing the procedures of this August House. Madam Speaker, the Minister has said they are waiting for treasury authority, in the meantime, the public is also made aware that her Ministry and we have seen the Permanent Secretary assuring our doctors who are on the street of being recruited this year. There is a number, 11,000, how difficult is it that you can’t break down the 11,000 for UTH and to tell us when the treasury authority for that number for UTH is going to be available? Why this failure to reconcile these two positions, when enough time was given to the Minister to get facts to this question? We want to know whether the treasury authority is in place, because the number we already know. I am asking this, Madam Speaker, knowing that we are dealing with a veteran experienced Minister. Can we get a clear answer from the Minister,” said Kampyongo.

Speaker Mutti then exercised her discretion and ordered Masebo to give detailed information on the matter by Friday.

“Since it is the first time that something like this has happened, I will reluctantly exercise my discretion and allow the Minister to come back with an appropriate answer, addressing this question. Of course, this is against our standing orders that we made for ourselves. When standing orders are made they should be complied with. The idea here is not to come and embarrass each other whether from the left or the right, the idea is for the Ministers to provide information which will be used, not only to the House but to the people of Zambia. So it is not in my interest to impose or to order the Minister to give an answer which might end up not being the correct position. So, I will exercise my discretion as I have said and give the Minister time to do a ministerial statement. The question is already on the order paper, that Ministerial statement should be made on Friday, this coming Friday, so that the people of Zambia are notified and clarity is given in terms of the 11,000 medical personnel that are going to be employed,” said Speaker Mutti

And responding to a question from Chama North PF member of parliament Yotam Mtayachalo on whether the Sondashi 2000 herbal drug was effective in curing HIV/AIDS and why it had taken long to determine the efficacy of the drug, Masebo said there was no scientific evidence that the Sondashi SF 2000 herbal drug was effective in curing HIV.

“There is currently no scientific evidence that the Sondashi SF 2000 DS herbal drug is effective in curing HIV and AIDS, because the drug has not been tested for efficacy or effectiveness. It has only gone through phase one safety trials. The delay in determining the efficacy of the drug is due to lack of funds, the estimated cost of undertaking phase two clinical trials is K7 million. The Sondashi Formula SF 2000 DS has under global pre-clinical trials, it has also undergone phase one human safety trials conducted by the Tropical Diseases Research Centre (TDRC),” she said.

Masebo said the drug was expected to undergo Human Phase two and three clinical trials which had been hampered by lack of funding.