With HIV/AIDS no longer an acute condition, the Departments of AIDS Prevention and Care and Public Health in the Ministry of Health are to be merged. This was confirmed by Shenaaz El-Halabi, a deputy permanent secretary in the ministry.
A few years ago, it was created as a standalone AIDS department, elevating it from a unit with a division in the ministry. El-Halabi said that the decision was in line with the international trend to respond to the challenge posed by the scourge and designed to give it the necessary attention.
“Over time, we have addressed the pandemic and as a result, HIV/AIDS is no longer an acute condition but is now a chronic condition,” she said, adding that thanks to successful anti-retroviral therapy, HIV/AIDS can now be managed like sugar diabetes.
Beyond that, the ministry has also identified the need to rationalise its operations. El-Halabi says that in the face of diminishing resources, it is imprudent to duplicate health services. She gives the example of someone who is both diabetic and HIV positive having to access services from two different sources when there can be a one-stop service centre.
“It is not justifiable for someone to queue for ARVs today and for diabetes medication the next day. Why not integrate the departments so that they can be holistically managed? Rather than have fragmented service delivery for an individual; we should have one department in which the strategy is the same and communication is more effective,” she says.
El-Halabi adds that from a resources standpoint, there is also the issue of inequity in funding that obtains in a situation when one department gets more money than the other. At the end of the day, the latter’s ability to deliver proper health care would be compromised by insufficient funding.
For a long time now, the ministry has been experiencing a severe shortage of personnel and the situation worsened following last year’s general strike by civil servants that resulted in some officers being dismissed.
El-Halabi says that the MoH’s workforce is “overwhelmed” and has a tough time operating within the current dispensation of a fragmented service delivery model.
The merger is yet to happen but the process is well in train. El-Halabi says that all the necessary groundwork has been done. The next step is to consult the Directorate of Public Service Management about the new organisational structure and take the proposal to cabinet, which has final say on the matter.