OP-EDs

OPEN LETTER TO MINISTER OF HEALTH MOTLATSI MAQELEPO.

When you were appointed Minister of Health in June last year, not a single person had, according to official records, died from coronavirus. You had ample time to ensure that while the country waits for a Covid-19 vaccine, patients have access to the best treatment we have available now, oxygen therapy.

By Motsamai Mokotjo and Kananelo Boloetse

Dear Honourable Minister, we are concerned citizens worried that the country is dealing with community transmission of the coronavirus.

A state of community transmission implies that the virus is circulating in the communities and is possible for everyone in a community to catch the infection.

It is estimated that 20 percent of Covid-19 patients need medical oxygen.

It goes without saying Honourable Minister that it is theoretically possible that one of us might catch the infection and be admitted to hospital to receive supplemental oxygen even before the end of this month.

This is very concerning.

Following widespread reports that our people are helplessly dying in public hospitals due to lack of medical oxygen, we would like to challenge you to admit that the Ministry of Health is responsible for the deaths, either directly or indirectly.

The Post and Newsday newspapers, trusted and reliable papers, reported on Thursday January 14, and Friday January 15, respectively, that patients in need of medical oxygen were in dire situation as the country’s public hospitals had run critically short of medical oxygen.

On Friday January 15, an audio clip in which Police Constable Motlatsi Mofokeng, spokesperson of the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA), narrates how one Police Constable Lenka travelled over hundred kilometers in search of medical oxygen which he ultimately did not find, was widely circulated on WhatsApp.

According to Mofokeng, Lenka who was suspected to have contracted covid-19, could not find oxygen at hospitals in Berea and Leribe.

While it was confirmed that Mafeteng had medical oxygen, Mofokeng narrated, the hospital did not have any bed it could spare for Lenka and therefore could not admit him.

He consequently died unnecessarily at Berea Hospital – one of the two designated Covid-19 centres in the country, the other being Mafeteng Hospital. His story could have had a different ending.

How do you feel about this?

Medical oxygen, healthcare experts say, is a critical intervention for Covid-19 and other illnesses caused by respiratory infections. They say it is in fact, one of the most essential medicines we have, a very effective treatment that is generally safe.

There is no alternative.

Ministry of Health had two options: to give medical oxygen to patients who needed it or let them die. The Ministry did not give them medical oxygen and they died.

Today, Friday January 22, Public Eye reported that shortage of oxygen at Berea and Mafeteng hospitals, has killed several coronavirus patients.

Families of the following deceased people told Public Eye that they died as a result of lack of oxygen at Mafeteng hospital:

  1. Hlalele Talasi (31 December 2020)
  2. ‘Maselebalo Masithela (1 January 2021)

These families also claim independently that more than 15 other people died as a result of lack of oxygen at Mafeteng hospital between December 31, 2020, and January 3, 2021.

Some people across the country have been using social media to announce deaths of their relatives as a result of alleged lack of oxygen in different hospitals.

The point of these announcements on social media has not just been to broadcast the deaths themselves, but to point out the brutality of having limited availability of oxygen in hospitals at the time when a viral respiratory pandemic is sweeping the world.

But you, in an interview with Relebohile Moyeye on 357 FM on Friday, 15 January 2021, insisted that there was reliable access to medical oxygen and said that the only challenge was that its demand had grown exponentially.

This is an insult to the people who lost their loved ones because of lack of oxygen in hospitals.

As the Minister you should take responsibility for these deaths, show remorse and publicly apologise to those who suffered directly or indirectly.

We also humbly request the Honourable Minister to, make public the number of all patients who died daily in Berea and Mafeteng hospitals from December 31, 2020, to January 22, 2021.

If the Honourable Minister does not publish the figures and make a public apology within seven days from today, January 22, we will request Prime Minister to remove you from the Ministry of Health with immediate effect.

The lack of reliable oxygen at government-run hospitals is an age-old deficiency which has just been highlighted and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is not a mystery but rather a question of will and focus.

To address crisis of lack of medical oxygen within a Covid-19 global pandemic, you could have ensured that Ministry of Health collaborates with private corporations and invested in access to medical oxygen and build sustainable systems to provide it to patients.

We have been reliably informed that there are private corporations which approached the Ministry of health and offered to help in the fight against Covid-19 by investing in manufacturing and distributing medical oxygen but were denied that chance.

An urgent investment in medical oxygen would serve two purposes: in the short term, it would fight the Covid-19 pandemic, and in the long run, it would save countless lives from future illnesses caused respiratory infections.

When you were appointed Minister of Health in June last year, not a single person had, according to official records, died from coronavirus. You had ample time to ensure that while the country waits for a Covid-19 vaccine, patients have access to the best treatment we have available now, oxygen therapy.

At this moment, it’ll do no good to criticize and condemn Health Ministers who came before you. We put the blame squarely on you, the current Minister of Health.

The mandate of the Ministry of Health is to provide an efficient and compassionate healthcare system, clearly the Ministry, under your leadership, has failed unless you can prove otherwise. Thank you. NW

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