… as government does not own a single scanning machine
By Ndapewoshali Shapwanale
A lack of Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines at state hospitals has resulted in the Ministry of Health and Social Services spending around N$11 million every financial year, sending patients to private hospitals for scanning services. The Ministry of Health and Social Services spokesperson Manga Libita told The Patriot that the state has not purchased any MRI machines since independence “due to the very expensive nature of the machines” as well as the high expenses that is involved in maintaining the machinery.
“However, it has now been put high on the priority list for leasing,” the ministry said.
She added that because it is a high-end imaging modality the service will only be made available at Windhoek Central Hospital for now and the Oshakati State Hospital at a later stage.
“It is not for every day and is mainly for specialists. So, it will not be something that the state will place at district hospitals,” Libita said. Libita could however not say when these machines can be expected or how much government will spend on leasing the machinery.
A medical practitioner well acquainted with the medical equipment market said that a market related price for a used MRI machine can go for between N$2 128 927 and N$17 031 420, while a brand new one can cost N$42 578 550.
The Ministry was allocated a projected N$6,8 billion for the 2019/2020 financial year of which N$21,4 million is earmarked for goods and services.
The Former Minister of Health and Social Services Bernard Haufiku said that the government spending those exuberant amounts has always been a concern for him during his time in the office.
He said that he had initiated the process of, at the very least, leasing several equipment including the machines needed for MRI services while in office.
Haufiku said that the Minister of Finance Calle Schlettwein had introduced him to possible suppliers and that he then – with the assistance of the Public Private Partnership department in the Ministry of Finance – embarked on the process of inviting manufacturers in the relevant field in order to address the issue.
The former minister, who now serves as the Special Adviser for Health and Social Services in the Presidency at the Office of the Vice President, said that they identified three companies which are Siemens, Phillips and General Electrics for the leasing process.
“These companies are the leading ones in the medical equipment industry. I have met with potential suppliers at least three times and they were just waiting for government to come on board with an answer,” the former health minister said.
He told The Patriot that he does not know how far the process is at the moment as he also did know what exactly was holding up the government in finalising the leasing programme in the first place, since the companies he had engaged were willing. The MRI services is not the only service that is crippling the ministry in providing all healthcare services to the public.
Haufiku said that the state also spends millions of Namibian dollars on scanning services for its cancer patients as the Eros Oncology Centre is the only one that has the Linear Accelerator machine and that is where they have to send all their patients to.
The machine, according to the Oncology Systems website, costs around N$4 248 090 to N$7 080 150 at the current exchange rate.
Haufiku said that the lack of these two important pieces of medical equipment is part of a bigger challenge that can only be solved through partnering with the private sector.
The medical doctor pointed out that the government’s Public Service Employee Medical Aid Scheme spends around N$3 billion a year on its members and with the options the medical aid provides, most of the public servants go to private hospitals.
“If we can equip the state hospitals, then public servants will start using state hospitals and this money is then invested back into the state hospitals,” he said.
He added that it must be understood that government will not be able to do this without the private sector and that making use of PPP provisions is therefore very important.
“It even talks to the training of students.
These services are needed for the training of students who specialise in a certain area,” the medical doctor said adding that the opportunity for collaboration between the health ministry and the University of Namibia School of Medicine should be explored.
Two nurses The Patriot spoke to said they believe that the lack of scanning services at the state hospitals are one of the contributors of the financial difficulty the ministry. The nurses said that they are basically at the mercy of the private sector because the private sector also has its own patients who enjoy first priority.
“I have been a nurse for more than 20 years now and I can tell you now that the number of patients we send outside for scanning, is enough to finance a machine for at least the Windhoek Central Hospital.
I think it is just poor planning from the government side,” the nurse said.