It’s time to address health issues

The National,Thursday June 30th, 2016

THE recent exchange between two members of Parliament over a report on the state of the public health system in the country leaves one wondering if there is going to be any consensus by the legislature to tackle the many issues raised.
Health Minister Michael Malabag was disappointed that the Special Parliamentary Committee on Public Sector Reforms has leaked its interim report on health services without passing it by Parliament.
However, in the committee’s defence chairman and Goroka MP Bire Kimisopa maintains that an opportunity was never given it to table the report.
Instead of waiting indefinitely for that opportunity, Kimisopa’s committee not only made the report to the mainstream media but also published it on its website:
Malabag is angry that the report was full of inaccuracies that the Department of Health addressed in a comprehensive 50-page response to the committee.
He also argues that the published interim report does little justice to and paid little regard to the many positives in the public health system that have been achieved in the recent past and the ongoing efforts of the department.
The minister went so far as accusing his colleague MP of being in contempt for bypassing Parliament to make public its report.
The committee began conducting meetings around the country in 2015 and visited a number of health facilities including those in Western province where there is an outbreak of tuberculosis.
Kimisopa’s committee visited New Ireland, West New Britain, Morobe, Western Highlands and Western provinces holding public forums, individual interview and visited facilities to gather the information published in its report.
The committee was told of recurring issues faced by the various health facilities they visited and these included, among others, inadequate and inefficient delivery of drugs and other medical supplies, lack of or aging medical equipment, the failure of the free primary health care system and declining numbers of health workers such as specialist doctors and nurses.
Some of the specific issues the committee became aware of and included in its report include:
l The critical need to step up efforts to contain the spread of multi-drug resistant TB in Western province;
l The lack of equipment at the national cancer treatment centre at Angau Memorial General Hospital;
l The “complete failure” of free primary health care system outside major hospitals as health centres were still charging fees in order to maintain their daily operations;
l Failure in the delivery of medical kits to facilities; and
l Inconsistencies in relationship between the Government (health department) and Christian Health Services.
The parliamentary committee is blunt in its assessments of the public health system which is based on its various interactions with health facility staff and members of the public.
In its tour of the above provinces (and this is true in other parts of the country not visited) the committee might have been given some degree of comfort and reassurance by the passionate health workers in those facilities.  Regardless of how inadequately they are equipped – some even labour on without regular pay – these faithful workers are the shining stars of the public health service.
The report is in many respects, an affirmation of the many inadequacies of the country’s public health system submitted by the very people at the health facilities or others who have had a firsthand experience of being served at those facilities.  There is nothing new, really.
There is some merit in the minister’s objection to the publication of the interim report but that is of little concern to the public.
Besides, it appears from the chairman’s public statement that the committee was “prevented” from tabling its report.
Having made a comprehensive report in response the interim committee report, apart from thge verbal presentations by senior officials before the committee, the health department has provided ample information that should have been incorporated in the report. That report is now available to the public so the argument whether it should have been vetted by Parliament seems immaterial. The facts are there, however debatable they maybe. Discussions, both by MPs and all stakeholders in the health sector, should be centred on how the many highlighted problems of the public health system will be corrected.