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Improving national health system

31 Mar 2023

In the quest to deliver health services to Batswana and in line with UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Three, which aspires for good health and wellbeing of all people by 2030, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi notes that Botswana acknowledges changing global trends.

Thus, there is an ever-growing need to strengthen the country’s health systems to achieve universal health coverage.

Government has recognised the interplay between health and developments and affirmed its commitment and accordingly aligned its development strategies to “Health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” which is included in the country’s National Development Plans (NDPs) and Vision 2036.

In October 2022, government introduced Botswana Public Health Institute (BPHI) in line with the world’s best practices in preparing for effective response to public health emergencies. 

Government learned hard lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic and the experience emphasised the need for countries to have Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the establishment of the BPHI brings Botswana a step closer to achieving this. 

Under the stewardship of President Masisi, the country has been applauded for its great success in the COVID-19 vaccination drive. The pandemic has had severe health and economic impact, disproportionally affecting countries with least capacity to respond, protect lives and livelihoods.

Government considers BPHI as instrumental in strengthening laboratory and diagnostic capacities to detect new and emerging threats, and the infant institute has been officially accepted as a full national member of the International Association of the National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI).

The milestone would see Botswana as a recognised member of the Global Health Community in prevention, detection and response to public health emergencies.

BPHI will also position Botswana to participate locally, regionally and internationally through contributions to growing scientific knowledge and evidence. 

At the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, government did not have effective diagnostic capacities, which resulted in the country sending some samples across the border.

In line with President Masisi’s pledge of bringing services close to people, government spent a fortune in bringing health services closer to people through the development of health infrastructure.

This was witnessed through among others, the partial opening of the newly built state of the art Joseph Polaano (J.P) Kavindama Hospital in Shakawe, which is expected to be fully operational in the first quarter of the 2023/24 financial year. 

Recently the facility transitioned into the second phase by the opening of some specified services that include outpatient services, social work, counselling, pharmaceutical, maternity services (labour and delivery services) and laboratory services.

Other remaining services such as the accident and emergency would be part of the third phase opening this year.

The hospital was named after the late Member of Parliament (MP) for Okavango Mr Joseph Polaano Kavindama and is a 70 beds capacity hospital. 

Besides provision of health services, the facility provides employment opportunities for locals and eases the burden of travel by patients from Shakawe to Gumare.

Furthermore, government has shown commitment to improving access to health care services by constructing and upgrading existing health facilities such as the Scottish Livingstone Hospital in Molepolole and Maun and Kasane Primary Hospitals. A 70-bed hospital is at 75 per cent completion level in Moshupa village.

On the HIV and AIDS front, government has lately been applauded for exceeding the UNAIDS targets 95-95-95. HIV response achievements were drawn from the recent Botswana AIDS Impact Survey (BAIS V), which indicated that the country had exceeded the set targets. 

Measurement of progress towards the UNAIDS target reveal that 95.1 per cent people with HIV were aware of their status, 98 per cent of those aware were on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) and 97.9 per cent of those on ART to achieve viral load suppression.

Overall, government has made tremendous progress in the past two decades and looks well positioned to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. 


COVID-19 Relief and Economic Recovery

When World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March 2020, one of Botswana’s first pre-emptive response strategies was to close borders for controlled movements and screening. 

Following the country’s first confirmed case on March 30, President Mokgweetsi Masisi declared a State of Public Emergency and ordered a 28-day lockdown effective April 2.  

The urgent response was to contain COVID-19 transmission through adopting an effective disease preventive strategy. A Presidential COVID-19 Task Force and District Response Teams we put in place to provide a multi-sectorial approach.

As the national cases continued to increase, the government made a deliberate decision to defer developmental projects and instead purchase COVID-19 vaccines to save lives. 

Even though initially the vaccination exercise was undertaken in phases, giving preference to the most vulnerable age groups, it was gradually rolled down to the younger population as vaccines continued to be availed. 

As of March 18, 2023, WHO reported that a total of 3 171 667 vaccine doses had been administered in Botswana. 

The Ministry of Health and Wellness statistics indicate that a total of 1 948 922 of the eligible population had taken their first dose, while 1 653 954 were fully vaccinated as of March 18, 2023. 

In addition, 506 196 had taken the booster dose. Moreover, the country has recorded a recovery rate of 99.2 per cent, with no new deaths recorded during the March 12-18 reporting period. 

Nonetheless, the government continues to put emphasis on the importance of vaccination since COVID-19 remains a global public health scare.

Subsequently, the Pula Corbevax Vaccine manufacturing plant was established in Botswana in March 2022. 

“The project is important to me personally, to be able to deliver on the promises that Government pledged to Botswana, particularly to drive the transformational development agenda of Botswana from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based one as espoused in our National Vision 2036,” President Masisi had said. 

In addition to addressing COVID-19 challenges, the facility is also expected to produce other pharmaceuticals such as cancer treatment drugs. 

From a continental perspective, the plant would go a long way in closing drug distribution disparities across African countries, which contributed to low vaccination rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

As expected, a pandemic the magnitude of COVID-19 adversely affected households, businesses and ultimately the national economy. 

In response, a COVID-19 Relief Fund was set towards stimulating economic recovery for various sectors. 

Government contributed P2 billion towards the fund, and a call was made to the private sector and individuals to make contributions through the Office of the District Commissioners across the country with the objective of mitigating against the effects of COVID-19 on households and businesses.

To prevent loss of employment in some sectors and provide relief to businesses, government implemented wage subsidies, loan repayment wavers and tax concessions were some of the interventions. 

Additionally, over 400 000 households benefitted from the Food Relief Programme across the country. 

Social protection programmes were expanded to cater for other groups of the population who experienced the negative impact of the pandemic, either due to movement restrictions or loss of income.

The Economic and Recovery Transformation Plan (ERTP) was also a response mechanism intended to stimulate the economy towards recovery.

It supported and transformed various sectors such as Agriculture and Industrialization, while at the same time enhancing economic and social inclusion, among others. 


Sectors appreciate COVID-19 interventions 


Despite COVID-19 challenges, government’s support towards funding strategies intended to enhance the quality of life for people living with HIV and AIDS continues to be availed.

This much, is appreciated by Botswana Network of People living with HIV and AIDS (BONEPWA) Executive Director Ms Kgoreletso Molosiwa.

In an interview, she said President Masisi’s administration was admirable particularly during the onset of COVID-19.

“Financial aid from the government through NAPHA still continued and we were even able to integrate educating people with HIV about COVID-19 in our budget and we also received medical supplies such as sanitisers, cleaning agents and surgical gloves, which also helped curb the COVID-19 virus,” she said.

Ms Molosiwa said Ministry of Health partnered with the organisation to ensure that people living with HIV in most districts received Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, especially during lockdown.

“We were able to collect and deliver ARV treatment for those individuals who could not go to clinics due to the movement restrictions that were imposed for our safety,” she said. 

As a result, efforts strengthened linkages between prevention, care and support services to people living with HIV.

She further stated that during the height of COVID-19 pandemic, the President was awarded the Certificate on Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV. “The silver tier certification is given to countries that have lowered mother-to-child HIV transmission rate to under five percent and we highly commend the President for this great accomplishment despite the crippling challenges of COVID-19,” she said.  

Ms Mmolotsi said COVID-19 had forced the country to put in place measures to respond to the challenges presented by the pandemic, which proved to be successful.  “As a COVID-19 survivor myself, I can confidently say, President Masisi’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic saved my life,” she said. 

She said the food packages popularly known as ‘Mma Boi’ that individuals received really helped, including her family as both her and her husband were financially constrained due to loss of employment.

“ I would like to thank our President and his team for their swift response to the COVID-19 pandemic and urge Batswana to continue following the health protocols set out so that we continue winning against this deadly virus” she said.  Ends

Source : BOPA

Author : BOPA

Location : Gaborone

Event : Interview

Date : 31 Mar 2023