Do not mistake them for sympathisers because they are not. Their hearts are filled with evil. There is no mercy. How else would you describe people who see a latest model of a Range Rover, Benz, BMW, farm, mansion and partying, as a priority when there is a calamity in the nation?
Since the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in December 2019, you should have taken time to look at their faces and posture when updating the nation on the COVID-19 statistics. You see excitement that is camouflaged in artificial empathy. However, in their hearts, Covid-19, deadly as it may be, has opened unexpected doors for mismanagement and misuse of the funds, and materials meant to combat the same frightening disease.
Zambia started to record cases of COVID-19 around March 2020. By this time around, China and a good number of European countries had been engulfed with the disease, with the death toll in thousands. The citizens of Zambia, that is: government itself/treasury, individuals, companies, churches, politicians, non-governmental organisations and cooperating partners become united. They seemed ready to battle and defeat the disease as one force.
The unity was in form of sympathetic messages, prayers, financial/money and material support to the Ministry of Health (MoH) to assist in combating the disease. It was awesome. The financial and material support to the MoH was in millions of kwacha.
Whereas the support was made in good faith and everyone had gone to relax, thinking that COVID-19 had been defeated, staff in MoH had strange and crazy ideas; those of mismanagement and misuse of resources. They saw an opportunity to take the donations to their homes/businesses on the pretext of securing their future and that of their families. It was “ubomba mwibala, alya mwibala.”
The Auditor-General`s Interim Report dated 31st July, 2020 (pages 12 to 36), on the utilisation of COVID-19 resources found that there were irregularities in the administration of donations related to Jack Ma Foundation. Documents from the Zambian Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, revealed that Zambia had been allocated 200,000 COVID-19 test kits, 1,000,000 face masks, and 1,000 protective suits and shields for medical use from the Jack Ma Foundation. The donated consignment arrived in Zambia on 24th March 2020. However, according to Medical Stores Limited (now Zambian Medicines and Medical Supplies Agency) by 5th June 2020, it had only received five breathe care (Positive Airway Pressure Unit), 208 detection kit (2019 n-cov) RNA PCR-Fluorescence Probing, 190 examination gloves (nitrile) powder free large, 36 infrared thermometers, 6400 medical face shield, 4,850 N95 face mask, 394 nucleic acid isolation kit 48 tests, 378 specimen containers (EDTA) single use, 7,650 surgical face mask and 3,800 Tyvek (disposable overalls). The Auditor-General’s office gave MoH time to reconcile its figures but the Ministry failed. An audit verification conducted on 14th August 2020, revealed that the reconciliation had not been done.
In the same report, a total of K27, 267 was paid to two (2) officers in the MoH from Kasama who purported to have been requested to travel to Lusaka to collect the COVID-19 items at the Medical Stores Limited. However, there was no correspondence from the Ministry of Health authorising them to travel because a scrutiny of retirement details revealed that the delivery notes for the items that they purported to have collected indicated that the medical supplies were delivered to Kasama by Medical Stores Limited. As at 14th August 2020, MoH had not provided documentary evidence with regard to the authorisation of the officers to travel and collect COVID-19 items.
The report further discovered that MoH entertained and accepted delivery of KN95 facemasks, instead of N95 face masks. Why would MoH receive a specification that was not prescribed? If any facemask could be used by health workers, why did the Ministry give the suppliers specifications in the first place? The report states that, “the contract was for the supply of 300,000 x N95 respiratory face masks. However, the supplier delivered 300,000 x KN95 respiratory face masks instead of N95 face masks contrary to the contract agreement.” It further goes to say that, “the supply of the KN95 face masks, instead of the N95 face masks that were stated in the contract, resulted in product substitution.”
In additional to the above, the report revealed that MoH awarded a contract for the supply and delivery of BP Machines for COVID-19 isolation facilities. A scrutiny of the bids submitted by the three (3) bidders, and a company search at Patent and Companies Registration Agency revealed that the owner of one company that bade was also a director in the other two (2) companies that bade.
The revelation of illegalities in MoH by the report of 31st July 2020 is not new. The MoH has been an epicenter of mismanagement of public resources for too long, but this is a topic for another day.
Comparable with what has been happening in Zambia, European countries responded to the pandemic well. No reports so far of mismanagement and misuse of resources for COVID-19 have been made. There is remarkable progress that has been made to slowdown the spreading of the disease. Vaccines by reputable drug manufacturers like AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson’s, and others have been developed. They are authorised for use after being backtracked for registration by drug regulators in those countries. Usually, it takes years for a drug to fully undergo clinical trials (four stages, the last stage of placing the drug on the market after approval by a drug regulator) before authorisation or approval by regulators.
However, due to the humanitarian threat that COVID-19 poses, scientists, stakeholders and drug regulators worked hard to have the vaccines available to humans within one year, from the date of the outbreak of the disease. The key issue in any drug development/clinical trial is quality, safety and efficacy of the product to the users. This is the part that developers and drug regulators cannot overlook. The COVID-19 vaccines could have not been given to people if scientists and drug regulators had inadequate data on the safeness, quality and efficacy of the vaccine. Of course, like any other drug, it is impossible not to rule out any adverse drug reactions that may occur now or the near future because of the use of the vaccines.
The focus, in Europe, is to find a cure and not mismanagement of COVID-19 resources like in Africa, particularly, Zambia. It is not enough for the Ministry of Health to be giving the public the same update on COVID-19 deaths, new cases, admissions and discharges. The public need to be told what the MoH has done or is doing in terms of research to find a lasting solution to the pandemic, and not merely lamenting about soliciting resources that may not be put to good use as the past has shown.
Currently, there is a raging debate in Zambia on the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19. What has the MoH done to investigate the use of this drug in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19? The MoH should take a lead in research to establish what studies are suggesting on the safety and efficacy of the drug to combat COVID-19. If MoH has no capacity, for one reason or the other, to carry out actual research on the product, internet may be useful to collect data from studies conducted by other countries and come up with a conclusion. If the data proves that ivermectin is not effective in treating or preventing COVID-19, what other remedies is MoH exploring? Leadership of lamentation, mismanagement and misuse of public resources has never solved any problem, but science and thinking has.