HEALTH Minister Sylvia Masebo says she is aware that some suppliers are using members of the public and the media to push for payments.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has revealed that 98,454 doses of Covid-19 vaccines have expired, translating into a wastage of 0.01%.

Speaking during a media briefing, Monday, Masebo said no amount of arm twisting would derail her ministry from verifying its debt.

“I am very alive to what is happening in this country where suppliers are using people to push for payments. We run a budget which is as good as an activity based budget. Secondly, this Ministry has taken over a huge debt from suppliers. A debt against goods and services which were supplied in some cases, which were not supplied in full in some cases because of the high levels of corruption by the previous administration. This administration has a duty to verify everything that was supplied to this Ministry. So we will not pay suppliers because they presented to us an invoice of goods supplied. No amount of arm twisting will change us. We are moving as we have resolved. Suppliers were called to this Ministry and they were told how we are going to proceed,” Masebo said.

“The budget for paying off debt is not run by this Ministry but under the Ministry of Finance. This government is committed to paying all debts that it has incurred. But debts that have been marred with corruption have to be dealt with accordingly. This Ministry is engaging with the Ministry of Finance on how best the debts are going to be dismantled. You have seen in the past months that this government has been dismantling debts. Just be very careful that you do not get used as members of the public and members of the press. Stop pushing for things you might not even understand. This is your government and this is your country so stop being used. I want to repeat myself, stop being used. If anybody is owed, they know where the offices are. They should not use members of the press to come and push for payments. It is wrong.”

And Masebo said it was normal to be given prescriptions, as it was not possible for government to procure drugs for all diseases.

“The PS made a statement a few days ago that the drug situation is stable. Please do not come back to me saying no, you said the drug situation is stable because one person has been given a prescription. It is normal to get a prescription, even when you go to Europe, they will give you a prescription. It is not all the drugs, 100 percent you are going to find in any facility. Even when we say the situation is stable, it does not mean it is 100 percent, no. We cannot buy drugs for all the 100 diseases if there were 100 diseases because some of those drugs will end up expiring. So the media can spend time with ZAMMSA and understand the situation. Going forward, let us try to help ourselves as a country so that we help the public,” she said.

Masebo said the Ministry had decided to extend the health recruitment exercise.

“On Friday, we did close the applications for health workers. This announcement is that I have received representation from different individuals in the country where I have been involved that some of our applicants had issues beyond their control. Although we closed on Friday, we shall open on Wednesday. I would have said today but I want this information to reach everybody. We shall open on Wednesday only to those who failed to apply for various reasons. So from Wednesday, Thursday and closing will be on Friday,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Health acting Director Public Health Dr Patricia Bobo said some vaccines had expired.

“One of the things we have tried to do is to ensure that we send out vaccines that have a shorter shelf life compared to those that have a longer shelf life. So we do know that from the demand that is low, we still have vaccines going out. So in terms of the actual numbers, we have definitely expired a few. Generally, it is something that we have not been worried about because of the measures that are in place. Right now, we do have close to five million doses in our vaccine storages across the country. We have been monitoring how they are moving. Every pharmacist will tell you that that is the principle that we use. We always want to make sure that the ones with shorter shelf life are the ones sent out first,” Dr Bobo said.

In response, Masebo asked Dr Bobo to be specific about the number of expired doses.

“…I do not know because I am not aware of what you are saying. So I just want you to be specific. How many drugs have expired? That is the question,” Masebo said.

But when Dr Bobo said she didn’t have the actual numbers, a seemingly upset Masebo said she was not interested in whatever mechanism being used to manage the vaccines but wanted to know the exact number of wasted doses.

“The problem is not the mechanism, it is the numbers. We tell the public that we have received a million doses. You cannot tell them we have a mechanism of course they know we have a mechanism. The question is do we have any drugs that have expired? The answer is yes or no? Then you can say those things you are talking about,” said Masebo.

Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary for Technical Services Professor Luckson Kasonka had to intervene, telling Masebo that wastage of vaccines was not unavoidable.

“Let me help my colleague. The management of medicines is that we monitor usage. There are areas of high use and low use. So we are always moving the doses around in order to cater for areas where demand is high. For example on the Copperbelt, there has not been a single dose that has expired. I think in Central Province, we reported a number of centres were very few, we are talking about five bottles that have been open and were not used to the very end. 10 bottles here,” said Dr Kasonka.

“It is difficult to say how many bottles because they are so manageable and do not constitute a big loss of vaccines to start making screaming headlines from the press. Given the number of vaccines, it is unavoidable that you cannot have a few doses expiring whether they are from expiry, wastage and breakages. So it is nothing that is worrisome from the Ministry. It does not translate into a big money loss.”

And according to an internal memo dated April 4, 2022 by the Ministry of Health department seen by News Diggers, only 98,454 doses of vaccines had been wasted.

“Kindly find attached for your reciew, the current number kf vaccines available data on wastage as at today, 4th April, 2022. Please note that the acceptable wastage rate by the World Health Organisation is anything below 10%. AstraZeneca 90,234 and Pfizer 8,220 bringing the total number of wasted doses to 98,454 representing a percentage of 0.01%,” read the memo.