Hospitals must be first in the money line

When hospitals run out of vital supplies, the government does not have its spending priorities straight.

No matter what excuses are offered by the Executive Director of the Ministry of Health about why vital medicines are missing, they are insufficient. The reason medicines and supplies have run out in hospitals is not an error or a mix-up. Saying they are aware and “looking into it” falls short of the credibility mark. Let us stop saying that hospitals ran out of medicine or supplies. Let us speak the truth. Government has not provided funds so that state medical facilities can serve the people’s healthcare needs.

We cannot take funds from hospitals to use on another medical emergency such as the pandemic. We must prioritise healthcare above all other expenditures.

The latest outrage is the low oxygen supply at Katutura hospital. This nightmare has a domino effect of cancelling surgeries. Many surgical patients are being shuttled to the Central Hospital for operations. When they arrived, that facility had no beds available on the necessary wards. The patient transfer was reportedly so chaotic that several had to hail taxis to get to the next hospital. This is dangerous.

There are women in need of caesarian sections to deliver their babies. This is a major surgical procedure that involves TWO lives. And yet, they suffer because someone dropped the ball. Insufficient funds caused the oxygen supply to drop too low for the needs of the patients.

An insufficient oxygen supply for a hospital shows a callous misunderstanding about healthcare. Life comes first not monthly government paychecks or ECN reruns of local elections. Fuel for government cars and sending new Ambassadors on mission rank low on the list compared to hospitals. Other things must be delayed, but not medicines and supplies for hospitals.

Some months ago, the staff at a mental hospital complained that the drugs needed to calm violent psychiatric patients had run out. The government failed to provide what the people needed for better health. Staff at the hospital were attacked; people went to work in fear. Patients who needed those psychiatric medicines were entombed in straight jackets. Most were locked up like animals because the right medicines to calm them were not ordered in time. This is a criminal disregard for the high value of human life.

It is probable that those responsible for allocating funds to state hospitals do not use those hospitals. They have insurance and therefore can choose to use private facilities. Their commitment to making sure state hospitals are well-supplied is suspect.

The bottom line is that there is no money available for necessities. Otherwise, medicines and oxygen would have been ordered on time. Money is not available to replace necessary items at the proper times, so nothing happens until a crisis occurs. Namibia has cash flow issues that are jeopardizing people’s lives.

A huge chunk of money was paid to COVAX to ensure Namibia is allocated a tiny portion of the COVID-19 vaccines after the rich countries take their fill. Perhaps this drained cash flow. If this occurred, then that fee should not have been a budgetary burden for the health ministry alone but equally distributed. It affects all ministries and every citizen.

A part of the problem could be that there are non-doctors making medical choices. The people working in the accounting office are responsible for allocations and distribution of funds. There are decisions being made that invoices for oxygen can wait and other pressing bills can be paid. Those making this choice could have no idea about the insurmountable importance of oxygen supplies for a hospital. And yet, their medical ‘decision’ disguised as a budgeting issue, has placed lives in danger. Who is checking this?

It is time for tough choices. If hospitals are not properly maintained, people suffer and die. Civil servants above a certain pay grade should have a temporary across-the-board five percent pay cut to save lives in hospitals. No one will die due to a five percent pay cut. People will die when surgeries cannot be done because needed medicines and supplies cannot be restocked.

It is high time that the government sends a shot across the bow of the bloated civil service that their wages drain too much from the economy. Cut from civil service salaries to ensure hospitals are fully funded. These are equally bad ‘choices’, but hospitals and human lives must be a priority.

The people at the Ministry of Finance are likely under siege. They are doing the “rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul-disco-dance” to trickle out the limited cash available as they best can. To put out one financial fire, they must cause two others. Nevertheless, the accountants must be ordered to handle requests from state hospitals FIRST.

We must get our priorities straight.

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