The Herald (Harare)

31 October 2012

Zimbabwe: Govt Must Step Up Malaria Fight

Photo: Stuart Price/UN Photo
Mothers sit with their malnourished and dehydrated children in a ward at Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu.

opinion

It defies logic that the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, the vanguard of the people's lives, has once again bungled by buying ineffective Para-Check malaria rapid diagnostics test kits which the Government and other neighbouring countries had long condemned.

Many had applauded the Government for banning the test kits because of their ineffectiveness in the detection of malaria, opting for better version which had a sensitivity rate of 95-98 percent, a move that many thought was noble and humanitarian.

According to reports, Para-Check test kits were not effective as compared to First response test kits which had a 98 percent sensitivity rate. The reports from doctors clearly state that the kits were misinforming medical practitioners, declaring some patients negative, while they were positive of malaria, resulting in some people being treated for wrong diseases.

This comes at a time when Zimbabweans have not yet forgotten that the Ministry of Health was previously being implicated in tender scandals involving unnamed companies. The people of Zimbabwe have not forgotten how in September 2009 the ministry awarded tenders worth over US$500 000 to Brothers Medical Services.

The company "won" tenders to supply mosquito-spraying chemicals, sprayers and protective clothing for the Zimbabwe Malaria Programme.

The tenders were, however, revoked after the company failed to deliver or at times delivered unregistered chemicals and inferior spraying equipment.

In December 2009, the ministry was again implicated in another tender scam and it ended up spilling into the courts of law when a Korean supplier filed an urgent High Court application seeking to be re-rewarded the tender which had been awarded to a losing bidder. In the papers lodged with the High Court, the applicant, Standard Diagnostics Inc, stated that they had submitted their bid and complied with all the tender requirements and after the adjudication by the tender committee, the applicant's agent was made aware that their bid had been accepted and recommended, only to be advised on November 25, 2009 that their bid was not successful and the tender had been awarded to Bostek Trading.

In their papers, Standard Diagnostics Inc stated that, "NatPharm and Crown Agents Consortium's conduct had been designed to prejudice the company and the nation at large because it was putting the lives of innocent Zimbabweans at risk as clearly outlined in the attached correspondence.

"The product of the losing bid has a low sensitivity of 57 percent, which means that chances are high that on low concentration levels, it will fail to detect the disease, which in turn means that a patient will be told that he/she is free of malaria and will not be given medication.

"Should this happen it means that the ordinary citizen will be put at risk just because NatPharm and Crown Agents Consortium has chosen to ignore and disregard the tender committee's recommendation," read part of the papers. When all this was being debated legally, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare did a very good job of keeping quiet and gave NatPharm the green light to distribute the kits which had been condemned.

One might not help, but wonder why the ministry keeps on risking the lives of Zimbabweans.

In many cases hospitals are overwhelmed because they do not have the necessary drugs and equipment to cater for the various health cases that they receive everyday while Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, which is supposed to be their governing body, wastes money on ineffective diagnostic test kits.

In May 2010, Buhera district experienced a number of deaths owing to the use of the poor performing Para-Check test kits which had been procured by the ministry in a controversial tender that led to heated legal showdown that spilled into the High Court in 2009.

In a world where about 250 million malaria cases and about one million deaths are recorded every year, the world has to intensify the fight against malaria in order to avoid more loses of life. Malaria is a serious problem in Africa. It is, however, sad to note that while the nation is struggling to curb this life-threatening disease, people are beginning to realise the importance of getting tested for malaria, the same Government compromises their previous achievement by purchasing Para-Check rapid malaria diagnostic tests kits.

One in every five (20 percent) childhood deaths are a result of the effects of malaria and it is estimated that every 30 seconds a child dies from malaria.

Scientists using the X-ray microscope are hoping to learn more about how the parasite infects and disrupts the blood cells and the blood vessels of an infected host.

In recent years Zimbabwe has intensified the fight against malaria, there has been progress in the prevention of malaria through the various malaria campaigns nationwide.

According to the World Health Malaria report for 2010, the number of malaria deaths had declined by about 21 percent from the year 2000 with the majority of the victims being children under the age of five.

After strides in distributing the means to prevent and treat malaria, Government then does a very good job destroying the gains of the fight.

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