14 September 2018

Swaziland: Six Children Die in Swaziland in Diarrhoea Outbreak. Vaccines Short Since Government Has Not Paid Suppliers

At least six children in Swaziland died this week from diarrhoea and many more are sick because the government is broke and cannot pay for vaccines.

It would cost US$6 for the vaccine to immunise a child.

The Times of Swaziland reported on Friday (14 September 2018) there is currently an outbreak of diarrhoea, mainly in the Shiselweni and Hhohho regions.

The newspaper quoted sources in the health sector. 'They said so far, the most affected area was Nhlangano, where a total of six children under the age of five died from the disease from last Wednesday at the Nhlangano Health Centre, while 13 were admitted to the same facility.'

The Times reported, 'A number of children under the same age group were treated and discharged at the health facility because the wards were already full.'

It added, 'Furthermore, the impeccable sources revealed that recently, medical practitioners at the Mbabane Government Hospital noted an increase in the number of children with diarrhoea. However, they said no statistics were released so far.'

The Times said, 'Dr Simon Zwane, the Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Health, confirmed the outbreak of the deadly, but preventable disease.'

In Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini by absolute monarch King Mswati III) diarrhoea is rated among the top three causes of mortality especially amongst children under five years of age. In 2014 at least 40 children died during an outbreak. Hundreds were hospitalised and more than 3,000 cases were recorded.

The Times reported the current outbreak came, 'in the wake of the economic difficulties which led to a health crisis'.

According to the website of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a 25-pack of one dose vials of rotavirus vaccine to immunise against diarrhoea costs US70.49 (E1,035) at commercial rates. Typically a child needs two doses to be immunised.

Medicines of all sorts have run out in public hospitals and health clinics across Swaziland because the Swazi Government failed to pay suppliers. Nurses have been protesting to draw attention to the crisis.

In July 2018 it was reported that Swazipharm, Swaziland's largest distributor of pharmaceutical products and medical equipment to the healthcare system in the kingdom, could not buy new stocks because the Ministry of Health had not paid its bill. Swazipharm Sales and Marketing Manager Cindy Stankoczi confirmed it had cut the supply of drugs to local health institutions.

Long before Swazipharm's announcement medicines, including vaccines against polio and tuberculosis had run out in many government hospitals and clinics because drug suppliers had not been paid. In June 2017, Senator Prince Kekela told parliament that at least five people had died as a result of the drug shortages. About US$18 million was reportedly owed to drug companies in May 2017.

In June 2018 it was revealed there were only 12 working public ambulances in the whole of Swaziland to serve 1.1 million people because the government failed to maintain them. It had bought no new ambulances since 2013.

In his budget speech in March 2018 Finance Minister Martin Dlamini said Government owed E3.1bn (US$230 million) in total to its suppliers for goods and services.

In June 2018 it was reported that children collapsed with hunger in their school because the government had not paid for food for them. The kingdom had previously been warned to expect children to starve because the government had not paid its suppliers for the food that is distributed free of charge at schools. The shortage was reported to be widespread across the kingdom.

Meanwhile, King Mswati III who rules Swaziland as one of the world's last absolute monarchs wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds weighing 6 kg, at his 50th birthday party in April. Days earlier he took delivery of his second private jet, a A340 Airbus, that after VIP upgrades reportedly cost US$30 million. He received E15 million (US$1.2 million) in cheques, a gold dining room suite and a gold lounge suite among his birthday gifts.

Seven in ten of Swaziland's 1.1 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day. The King has 13 palaces. He also owns fleets of top-of-the range Mercedes and BMW cars. His family regularly travel the world on shopping trips spending millions of dollars each time.

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