MASERU–Health minister Dr Pinkie Manamolela has acknowledged the timing of the establishment of Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital, the country’s referral centre, was not right.
Manamolela was commenting on a report by Oxfam, an international confederation based in the United Kingdom, that has described the hospital as a liability and unnecessarily costly for the government.
Two weeks ago Public Eye published a damning preliminary report by Oxfam revealing the hospital, popularly known as Tšepong, was costly and was not living up to expectations.
Oxfam, which is a confederation of 17 global organisations working together in 90 countries to fight poverty and injustices to humankind, worked in collaboration with the Lesotho Consumer Protection Association (LCPA) and released the final report on Monday this week.
The report indicated Tšepong takes a large proportion of the ministry of health’s budget, while providing high returns of 25 percent to the private investor, Tšepong Proprietary Limited.
It also disclosed Lesotho’s experience supports international evidence that health Private Public Partnership (PPP) projects of this kind “are high risk and costly.”
The federation advised that the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – an arm of the World Bank – should be held to account for its advisory role to the government of Lesotho and for marketing the health PPP as a success internationally.
Now, in an interview with Public Eye on Wednesday this, Manamolela indicated the establishment of Tšepong was intended to address issues of congestion, inefficiency and high costs incurred by the government over the now-defunct Queen Elizabeth II hospital.
“The biggest challenge facing the government with Queen II and the entire health services in the country then seemed to have lied mostly with a high number of patients referred to the hospital, rendering it impossible for health service to be efficient.
“It also proved costly to upgrade and maintain the hospital,” she said.
The minister held the view that by establishing Tšepong, the government had not been well advised “because now we are even experiencing more congestion and high costs with the new hospital.
“To me it says, much as Tšepong is commented for being one of its kind in Africa and globally, the timing of its establishment was not right,” she indicated.
She explained to avoid such congestion, patients should first be referred to village health centers (VHC) where there are trained personnel to attend them.
“The patients may not be fully treated at the VHCs and that is when they are supposed to be transferred to local clinics for further treatment”, she showed.
“From the local clinics, the patients are referred to district hospitals, where now it is expected there should be highly competent health practitioners to take care of them.”
Only if the patients are so critical beyond the capabilities of the hospitals can they then be referred to the national referral hospital, Manamolela stressed.
“But with the current situation, patients are taken straight to Tšepong from home because there is no district hospital and both the VHCs and local clinics have not been capacitated well before the establishment of the national referral. The chain is broken,” she contended.
The minister further said it was high time ‘the chain’ is fixed to avoid the congestion, inefficiency and high costs at Tšepong.
“It should have been the first step we took before Tšepong was born,” she insisted.
However, Manamolela revealed to Public Eye there was a cabinet committee recently formed to look into the contract of Tšepong, with a view to renegotiate it.
She added her ministry was engaged to capacitate the VHCs and local clinics to turn the situation around.
Meanwhile, the Lesotho Consumer Protection Association director, Mr Lehlohonolo Chefa, was quoted by the UK-based online newspaper, The Guardian, as saying: “Our government is piling more money into healthcare but not enough of it into rural areas where most people need it.”
Chefa told Public Eye on Wednesday this week the money instead goes into “this otherwise important tertiary facility in the city (Tšepong) and from there into private pockets including one of the world’s biggest health companies (Netcare).”
The Netcare owns bigger shares in the Tšepong consortium.
“Lesotho was promised a better health service for the same price – and that has not happened. Other countries in Africa and indeed all over the world need to look closely at this experiment in Lesotho and be very wary of repeating it,” charged Chefa.
Last week deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing took swipe at the ministry of health, blaming it for the run-down state of the national health services despite the hefty share of the national budget that it receives.
The state of affairs, Metsing pointed out to stakeholders at the briefing on the health care revitalisation programme at the ministry’s headquarters on Wednesday last week, was worrying donors.
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