Botswana’s Treat All strategy that seeks to provide antiretroviral therapy to all citizens living with HIV\AIDS hangs in the balance following claims that the American Government is threatening to stop its financial aid.
The allegations were made by a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Dithapelo Keorapetse who appeared to have inside information on the internal affairs at the Ministry of Health.
Keorapetse who is also a Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West said the US Government had made an undertaking to support the initiative with P2 billion for drugs adding that that was why the initiative was adopted.
He said the understanding was that the Botswana Government would not incur additional costs.
He alleged that the American government later decided to pull out after they discovered that the company supplying drugs for the Treat All strategy is a British company; they had thought it would be a USA drug company. Sunday Standard reported last year that information surrounding procurement and financial details of dolutegravir, an HIV drug considered very expensive to be used on newly diagnosed HIV patients in Botswana was classified.
Experts say this is one of the most expensive health agreements ever reached by a government and pharmaceutical company in the sub-continent. ViiV is a global specialist HIV company partly owned by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
GSK is one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies.
The tender was announced by ViiV last year. Sunday Standard investigations revealed that at least 30 tablets of Tivicay costs around $1, 429, and 93.
Keorapetse said it was still unclear how the Ministry of Health identified the drug company and who negotiated the deal.
Responding to the allegations raised by Keorapetse, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Shenaz El-Halabi said she was not aware that the American Government intended to pull out of the Treat All strategy agreement. She said the agreement was that the Treat all Strategy was to start from last year when it was launched and last until 2020. She said that the funding from the US Government is in the region of $1.5 million.
Keorapetse further claimed that there are no malaria drugs at some facilities in areas where malaria is prevalent. He made reference to unconfirmed reports of expired malaria drugs which the ministry has kept secret. He asked what the value of the expired drugs was, and why the ministry was secretive about the issue.
He also challenged Shenaz to comment on allegations that the recent malaria outbreak was due to negligence on the part of the ministry which was sitting on expired drugs which could not be administered for preventive measures before the rainy season. He asked why the ministry did not conduct malaria spraying exercises before the recent rainy season to prevent the outbreaks which allegedly resulted in deaths that could have been avoided.
Shenaz denied that there were expired drugs at the Central Medical Stores.
Keorapetse also wanted Shenaz to explain why Government took a decision to deny all officers at D1 scale and below, who travel abroad on Government official missions, incidental expenses which they are entitled to.
Shenaz said if there is such a development the intention was not to cancel it but it was done for purposes of cost containment.
Keorapetse insisted that the Ministry should not compromise on that policy saying it could dent the country’s image when its officers are stranded overseas or failing to buy medication because they had not been given per diem.
Shenaz agreed that she would ensure that officers are provided with per diem when they travel overseas.
According to Keorapetse there are claims that the Ministry was diverting per diem due to officers below D1 scale towards financing the Treat All Strategy for HIV/AIDS. He also wanted to know why Ministry decided to adopt such a strategy if it was aware that funds were not available. He said that in rare cases where the per diem is given, junior officers (employees at D1 and bellow salary scale) are given 10% per diem regardless of the nature of their travel abroad as per the General Orders 109.9, while the senior management and executive staff enjoy at least 25% per diem.