HEALTH Minister Sylvia Masebo says individuals spreading rumours that there is a shortage of Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARVs) in Zambia are only creating unnecessary panic among citizens.

And Masebo says the new dawn government makes mistakes, but cannot be compared to the PF because the current regime understands its position.

During a media briefing, Thursday, Masebo said from time to time, the Ministry of Health would change policies in as far as drug intake was concerned depending on global trends.

“It’s also important for people to understand that from time to time, the Ministry of Health will change policies in as far as drug intake is concerned, depending on the times. Now you are talking of a drug that was produced at the beginning of HIV, obviously there are even much more modern drugs that our colleagues in developed countries are taking than maybe what we are taking here in Zambia. So whenever there is a change, I think that before we create unnecessary panic, because this panic that we are creating, we are scaring those of our friends that are actually suffering from these diseases or situations,” she said.

“If you are going to start writing a story, you have not taken time to find out from the people that have issued it. [You don’t do that], but somehow you spread it and say there are no drugs, this drug is not good, [why]? You are not even a doctor, you are telling people this drug is not good, you are just a politician like me, I think let’s try to refrain [from that].”

Masebo reminded PF members that they could also fall sick.

“There are so many things this administration has tried to put in place just to stabilise this ministry. You’ve heard about ghost workers, in March I made a statement about ghost workers and ghost institutions. Some of the members of the press were even challenging me [that] give us proof. But I knew what I was talking about. I have been in systems of governments before and I know. I know what I was talking about when I said there were ghost workers under the Ministry of Health. What has happened today? The Auditor General has confirmed and I know about this, and we tried to clean up the mess that they created for us. So help us to serve this country and to serve them, because even them can be sick tomorrow. You’ve heard Prof Mulenga here talk about US$20 million of our own contribution to purchasing of ARV drugs, unprecedented. They never did that, almost 100 percent was donor funding,” she said.

And Masebo said the new dawn government makes mistakes, but can’t be compared to the PF.

“We are trying as a nation to be responsible, to take the money where it’s supposed to be, not to steal the money, no or to misuse the money, no! We don’t do those things, we understand why we are here. We are here to serve them and the nation. Yes, we make mistakes, but you can’t even start to compare some of those people to us, totally different. We are committed to serving Zambians, we understand why we are in this position. I heard somebody telling me ‘aah you are not giving us money’, when you used to come for Covid they used to give you K1000 each, K100, we are not there to do those things. Because I’m a public servant, I don’t have that money to flash around to you. Even as a press for you to report positively on me, no!” she said.

“And speaking for myself, I’m a child of God, I’m clear about why I’m here. So please let us work together because this Zambia belongs to all of us, and if we mess it up, we are messing ourselves up. And you’ve seen what’s happening, everything that is happening to those that were here can also happen to us, so some of us are clear why we are here. We know that this is important work and we have to work for the people of Zambia.”

Masebo wondered why some politicians had chosen to politicise the matter even when they never used to talk about health matters.

“I know that we have our colleagues in the opposition that have made Ministry of Health their subject matter, every day, every evening, every afternoon, I have no problem with that. It’s important, it’s also part of democracy, it’s also part of what you call checks and balances. But I just ask that if you can be a little bit responsible because we are dealing with lives. This is not Ministry of Sports, between Zambia and Congo, no! This is somebody’s health and therefore let us work together as Zambians. When people begin to do things politically, deliberately to misinform those unsuspecting citizens who may not even know what is really happening, I think it’s unfortunate. And suddenly those who never even use to talk about health have started talking about health,” she said.

“What we are cleaning up in the Ministry of Health is the mess they left as PF basically. And I keep saying there is a lot of work here. I don’t come to talk about the mess on a daily basis because it’s not necessary. I take it that we are there to clean the mess. But it looks like people want me to be reminding them of the mess that they left on a daily basis. You heard that question [where] somebody was asking, I’m talking about the drug, and he has told you the last time that drug was bought is five years ago but somebody will be talking as if it has just happened today.”

Meanwhile, in a statement earlier, Ministry of Health permanent secretary for technical services Professor Lackson Kasonka said 98.5% of those on HIV treatment were now receiving the newer, safer, easier to take and more efficacious drug.

“The Ministry of Health wishes to inform members of the public that there is no shortage of Anti-retroviral drugs in Zambia. In the quest to provide safer and more efficacious drugs, the optimization of antiretroviral therapy has since started. To this effect, 98.5 per cent of the 1,229,781 receiving ARVs are now receiving the newer, safer, easier to take and more efficacious dolutegravir containing ARV combinations called Tenofovir Disoproxil Fumarate/ Lamivudine/ Dolutegravir commonly referred to as TLD or Tenofovir alafenamide / Emtricitabine/ Dolutegravir commonly referred to as TAFED. These drugs are fixed into a tablet and given as one tablet per day,” said Dr Kasonka.

“These newer combinations were introduced in Zambia in 2018 and have since led to over 96% of Zambian people living with HIV receiving ARVs to have the virus suppressed resulting in a healthier and more productive population. However, there still remain about 6,000 individuals who are taking an old ARV drug called Zidovudine which the Ministry of Health has been transitioning from to TLD or TAFED. This drug due to its poor side effect profile has thus faced increasing low demand worldwide disturbing its global supply chain and leading to its erratic supply in the last two years. Zambia too has faced this erratic supply.”