4 January 2019

Swaziland: Report - Patients Die As Swaziland Government Hospital Runs Out of Cash

Photo: Daily Trust
stethoscope.

More evidence that public health facilities in Swaziland/eSwatini are grinding to a halt emerged over the holiday period with news that the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Mbabane Government Hospital is close to shut-down because equipment is not being maintained. People are dying because of this, it was reported.

The Government is broke and public services across the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, have been run into the ground.

On New Year's Eve the Times of Swaziland reported the government had failed to maintain equipment.

It said, 'A medical staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, alleged that they had on countless occasions raised the issue of the unfixed machines and that the response they received was that there was no money.'

It said, 'It has been discovered that in most departments several machines are lying idle due to the fact that they have not been fixed for months after they developed faults. According to impeccable sources, the most affected department currently is the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).'

It said, 'In the past three weeks, a machine meant to provide ventilation inside the ICU allegedly developed faults and stopped functioning.

'The sources said the situation was so serious such that on some days, doctors were forced to open the door just so that some fresh air could filter inside.'

The source added, 'This is very dangerous to the patients because it puts their lives at risk. The ICU door has to be kept closed at all times, especially because it is situated right next to some of the wards where patients with diseases like TB are accommodated.'

It added fewer than five beds out of a total of 12 in the ICU were available for patients.

The Times added, "It has been alleged [some patients] end up dying while waiting for their chance to be accommodated in the few beds.'

A hospital employee told the Times, 'We are worried about the death rate here. With the ICU being compromised, many patients' lives are at stake. Government should do something.'

The Times said other departments also had machines such as monitors that had not been fixed. It added, 'The reason why the machines have been lying idle is that the hospital has allegedly struggled to pay a company responsible for fixing them.'

Director of Health Services Dr Vusi Magagula acknowledged that they were facing a crisis in the health sector.

This is one of a long line of cases. In September 2018 it was reported Mbabane Government Hospital was unable to feed its patients because it had no money. There are 500 beds at the hospital.

On 14 September 2018 it was reported at least six children in Swaziland had died from diarrhoea and many more were sick because the government was broke and could not pay for vaccines. It would cost US$6 for the vaccine to immunise a child.

Medicines of all sorts have run out in public hospitals and health clinics across Swaziland. 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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