COVID-19 Wars persist

The growing tensions and rifts between the Presidential COVID-19 Task Force and Performance Improvement Committee (PIC) have escalated. As President Masisi tries to intervene, the two entities are caught in a blame game over who contributed to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the country

The growing tensions and rifts between the Presidential COVID-19 Task Force and Performance Improvement Committee (PIC) are believed to have contributed to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the country, The Botswana Gazette has established.

Sources say the more than 1 000 recent COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths is a result of a lack of a clear and robust system of contact tracing by the Ministry of Health and Wellness. It is said numerous contact tracing proposals submitted by the Task Force led by Dr Kereng Masupu, Professor Mosepele Mosepele and former Director of Health Services Dr. Malaki Tshipayagae were either rejected or sabotaged by the PIC.

The PIC is made up of permanent secretaries and is chaired by the Permanent Secretary to the President, Elias Magosi. Its purpose is to facilitate delivery of the national vision goals and budgetary processes. Magosi’s phone rang unanswered on Tuesday. However, it is said the position of the PIC is that some the proposals of the Task Force could prove too costly for the government.

“In July, the health ministry decided to introduce the clusters system where they changed contact tracing and told people to bring themselves to hospital if they showed symptoms,” says a source according to whom this was against the advice of the Task Force and the Director of Health Services. “Now they have lost control and the numbers are rising rapidly.” It is understood that the Task Force has already warned that a new and higher wave of COVID-19 infections could be looming.”

Members of the Task Force are said to be growing “extremely frustrated” by filibustering posture of the PIC that recently drove Professor Mosepele to resign from the Task Force after which it took a meeting President Mokgweetsi Masisi to change his mind. Even so, it is said that at some point both Dr Masupu and Dr Mogomotsi Matshaba were also on the verge of resigning from the Task Force for the same reasons at some point.

Dr Tshipayagae was also said to have been under serious pressure because of the internecine jostling for supremacy between the experts and bureaucrats. Reports have previously stated that Dr Tshipayagae was always mostly in agreement with Dr Masupu and Dr Mosepele’s recommendations but this rubbed his superiors in the civil service up the wrong way. In the end, it is said he was redeployed on demotion to Pricess Marina Hospital.

Sources say the tensions between these forces were worsened by President Masisi’s decision to corall all COVID-19 procument in the Office of the President where the Task Force was empowered to run the show in accordance with its expertise. Several orders previously placed by the Ministry of Health were subsequently cancelled.

Neverhteless, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Kabelo Ebineng, denies any fall out between the Task Force and the PIC and attributes the spike in COVID-19 to other factors. “It is evident that there is local transmission of the disease within the community,” he told The Botswana Gazette. “The numbers are testimony to the ability of the surveillance system to unearth them.

“Poor adherence of preventative measures by the public is also evident. This frustrates progress in controlling the disease and results in continued transmission at a community level.  This is supported by a high movement of people at places of recreation and poor use of masks. It should be acknowledged that while the Ministry of Health and Wellness acts as technical advisors and facilitators in control of the disease, greater control relies on proper and active participation of the community.

“People must take individual responsibility. The ministry recognises community care as an effective option in dealing with the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. This includes both home quarantining and/or isolation. The ministry will continue to mobilise and educate the communities on appropriate infection prevention and control strategies at household levels to ensure that communities are able to protect themselves continuously.”

At the time of going to press, the Coordinator of the COVID-19 Task Force, Masupu, was yet to respond to Gazette questions sent to him on Monday last week.