At a time when the country is grappling with a deficit in machinery for its health centres, the two referral hospitals in Bulawayo have equipment that is unusable but was supposed to be new.
When the equipment, worth US$900 000, arrived from India and delivered to Mpilo Central and United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) in 2006, it had many parts missing thus could not be put into service. It cannot be used too because, as we reported yesterday, technology had overtaken it and spares for it is no longer available. As a result, the hospitals are stuck with museum pieces when they need working machinery to deliver quality services to the people.
Genuine questions have been raised on how the machines were procured, with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health on Thursday demanding an investigation.
Doctors at the two institutions had told the committee that the obsolete consignment included theatre equipment, incubators, ventilators and beds that can only sustain weights of “light” people, below 65kgs. There are adult ventilators, an electric theatre table which cannot be adjusted, hydraulic theatre tables which have no foot pedals to adjust the tables, electroencephalography machines which could not be assembled as they had missing parts, three incubators which need spare parts, seven continuous positive airway pressure machines which came with missing parts, colonoscopy/gastroscopy machines which have poor image quality, and came with no manual and with control buttons written in Japanese.
At Mpilo Central Hospital it was estimated that about 80 percent of the equipment was non-functional while at UBH 62 percent of the machines are dysfunctional.
A surgeon at Mpilo, Mr Allan Ngulube, put the issue into perspective.
“So as young surgeons we have been here for some years and have not been operating because there are no anaesthetic machines basically there is a lot of missing equipment,” he said.
“Imagine our disappointment when we opened the equipment here and it was set up to try and use it lo and behold, there were a lot of missing parts. So, we couldn’t use it. It was not the latest in terms of the brands. As a hospital that had nothing, we said half a loaf is better than nothing at all. But even the half loaf is not usable at all. So, the equipment is stored in a storeroom somewhere because it has missing parts.”
We argue that no mistake was committed in the procurement of the malfunctioning machinery. Instead, this was a deliberate act by the procurement team to buy the poor consignment cheaply for them for them to pocket the difference. This is a scandal which angered the chairperson of the parliamentary committee chairperson, Dr Ruth Labode who demanded an investigation into how the procurement of the machines was conducted.
We look forward to the committee presenting a report on their tour to Parliament as soon as the House reconvenes after its Covid-19-induced recess. We are almost certain that the report will urge the Ministry of Health and Child Care to launch an investigation into how obsolete equipment was bought for so much money. Whoever would be found to have enriched themselves at the expense of the majority for whom Mpilo and UBH are their best health care centres, must be punished accordingly.
As we keenly await that report and a formal approach to the ministry for a probe, we are unhappy that it would have taken two visits by the parliamentary committee for an investigation to be launched.
As we reported yesterday, the scandal was initially exposed by the Senior Hospital Doctors’ Association representatives, Shingai Nyaguse (president), Raphael Makota (vice-president), Aaron Musara (secretary-general), Bothwell Anesu Mbuwayesango and Nomaqhawe Moyo who are all specialist doctors at a parliamentary portfolio committee on health meeting in Parliament in January.
No corrective action has been done since then. We assume that the leaderships of both hospitals have not initiated any investigation since 2006, for if they had, they would have told Dr Labode’s committee that they had done so. If we are correct, we are curious why and how the powers-that-be at the hospitals thought it made sense for them to have received supposedly new equipment worth about a million US$ that was unusable from the outset.
However, this time, we feel the parliamentary committee will escalate the issue. We don’t see the ministry dragging its feet in constituting an investigating team and sending it over to get to the bottom of this clear scandal.