Monday, September 25, 2023

Medical Tourism: Another catchphrase in the offing from Govt?

The Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) annual conference held in Kasane has birthed yet another Government catch phrase – medical tourism.

Speaking on behalf of Health Minister – Edwin Dikoloti at the conference, technical Consultant Dr Morrison Sinvula said that the government is ready to regulate medical tourism.

Medical tourism which is largely practiced in countries such as Egypt and India is defined as the process of traveling outside the country of residence for the purpose of receiving medical care. Anyone who has lived in Botswana for the past decade or so will tell why Dr Sinvula’s declaration at HATAB conference could be nothing but just a catchphrase. Other catch phrases from government include digitalisation, fourth industrial revolution and diversification.

Available archives on Botswana’s economic data show that despite a series of supportive policies since independence, economic diversification and job creation remains an obscurity for Botswana.

When delivering the 2010 budget speech, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning Kenneth Matambo had his theme as “Transforming our economy after the crisis: 2010 and beyond”, making a repeated call for economic diversification. The theme is in line with what former cabinet minister David Magang calls the ‘catchphrase’ backdrop to national budget speeches since the days of the first President Seretse Khama

“The government’s fixation with this economic growth with this economic growth option has at times been way over the top”, says Magang in his book –  ‪#‎Delusions of Grandeur Vol 1.

The elusive goals

As it stands, the government is striving to diversify the local economy while at the same time battling with a rising unemployment rate year in year out. On the recent ambition of medical tourism, the health ministry has been facing many challenges including shortage of medications.

Scores of Batswana are being turned away from private and public health facilities because there is no treatment for their diseases as Botswana buckles under global supply chain issues which are causing prescription drug shortages, a situation the American Medical Association calls “ an urgent public health crisis.”

In November 2021 Chief Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Nyanga acknowledged that public health facilities have run dry of certain medical drugs.

“It is true that we have in the recent past experienced shortage of some medical supplies including some drugs that you mention such as epillim. Others like midazolam are not in short supply as you say. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for most countries especially in the developing world, to access medical supplies at the rate and quantities that they require. This is because COVID-19 has slowed down drug production which inevitably affected delivery timelines,”

“As a result, health facilities in Botswana and elsewhere across the world have been experiencing shortages and delayed arrival of certain drugs and medical supplies,” said Nyanga.

He further said the delayed delivery of drugs resulting in this shortage in public facilities, was mainly experienced from the last quarter of the 2020/2021 financial year.

“As already indicated the challenge has been the delayed delivery of drugs and other medical supplies, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which has slowed down the supply chain of all products and commodities, including medical supplies.”

“Like with all aspects of the global economy, we believe that medical commerce has begun the recovery process, post COVID-19. We therefore, anticipate production and supply of drugs and medical supplies to improve in the coming months,” added Nyanga.

Nyanga said in the meantime, government has put in place some measures to avert any deterioration of the drug shortage situation in the country, adding that multiple drug procurement initiatives have been conducted, including procurement of alternative drugs to ensure that all patients receive drugs in good time.

“The ministry resorted to use of available alternative drugs to avert situations where patients go for a long time without treatment. Expediting the procurement process was another initiative to ensure that the drug shortage does not morph in to a crisis. Because of this intervention, some anticonvulsant drugs like Phenytoin, which can be used as an alternative to epillim, have been procured and will be delivered in the next two weeks,” said Nyanga. On the other hand, The Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Edwin Dikoloti recently admitted before a gathering in Serowe last year that there is insufficient supply of medical drugs. All these brings a question of whether Dr Sinvula’s HATAB sentiment is not just one of the government catch phrases.


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