Managing on the frontline

Kabelo Dipholo
MERITING MANAGER: Dr. Tuelo Ntwaagae

COVID -19 Warrior

Botswana Medical Practitioners Group Chairman, Dr. Tuelo Ntwaagae who also serves as the Chairperson of the Health Sector in Business Botswana, feels the private sector has been sidelined in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this interview with The Voice journalist KABELO ADAMSON, Meriting Medical Centre Managing Director says things could have been different had the private medical practitioners been engaged from the onset, but nonetheless says the government has put up a good fight against the pandemic.

Q. What is your view on how government has handled the spread the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic?

A. I think on average we have done very well if you compare us with other countries.

If you look at our numbers and the interventions, which have been put in place we are doing well.

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Although we feel that the private sector should have been more involved.

There should be a collaboration between the government and the private sector and our feeling is, it is not adequate at the moment.

Q. But did you approach government as the private practitioners to offer your assistance?

A. Yes, we did present our position to government but to be honest with you, we were not rejected.

There were delays here and there concerning our engagements.

The delays were exacerbated by the departure of the Permanent Secretary and his Deputy from the Health Ministry, but the position that we presented to the government was that the private sector was ready to step in and assist because we have resources, skilled people, from public health specialists to specialized nurses and we even told the government we are ready to donate time as well.

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Q. But when you presented your position to government on how to collaborate, what was the response?

A. The government has recently released a notice to the effect that the private sector can participate in the testing of the coronavirus, but during our engagements, we made it clear that there should be guidelines for testing by the private sector.

We proposed that the testing exercise should be co-funded with the government paying a portion and the private sector as well.

But to our surprise, we recently learned through a notice from the government that the private sector should bear all the costs!

This is something we will need to discuss with the minister.

We have waited for too long for this collaboration until the public noticed there is a gap between the government and the private sector in terms of a working relationship

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Q. Do you think an agreement will ever be reached?

A. It really worries me because this has taken longer than we had wished.

We approached the government in the early days of the pandemic to present our position and now the delays have led to a recent issue where there was a public disagreement over suspected Covid-19 cases.

That is abnormal in the health sector; we don’t disagree over the results in public, it shows how big the gap is between the government and the private sector.

Q. Besides being the chairman of the Medical Practitioners Group, I understand you are also the Chairman of the health sector in Business Botswana.

A. Yes, I assumed the Chairmanship of the health sector in 2018.

Our main mandate as the health sector is to advocate for investments and the growth of the sector.

We also want to harmonize the relationship between the government and the private sector to enable a good collaboration going forward.

In addition, I am also a member of the National Health Council, which was set up through an Act of Parliament.

Unfortunately, the Council has not been active but as the private sector, we are pushing for it to be active because it will provide a conduit where our issues will be channeled to government.

We have been up in arms with the ministry to make the Council work because it is a statutory committee in which little is known about it.

Q. You also run your own clinic when did you start it?

A. Our clinic started back in 2011, a year after I left government.

We started as a small clinic behind Marina Hospital offering general medical services ranging from kids, teenagers, and young adults to the elderly.

Basically all ages!

Q. How long did you work for government, and why did you leave?

A. I spent about three years with government.

I left public service because I wanted to explore and see what’s out there for me.

It was about growth.

When you are still with government everything is streamlined and if you are to grow you would have to do that within a district and it is very difficult for you to be able to reach out to other platforms.

Remember as a public officer, you are under the guidance of the Public Service Act, which has its own limitations.

As a doctor, just like any other profession, it becomes difficult to grow.

So for me, it was about being on a platform, which allowed me to grow and come up with innovations and explore other interests without a worry.

Q. But why do we see many doctors and health professionals leaving the public service to establish their own practices?

A. Well, I think beyond the issue of freedom, when you engage with others they tell you they are frustrated.

But I have never really got to understand what their frustrations are but for me, it wasn’t the case. Most of them say conditions of service are not conducive, which limits their innovation and growth because they have to operate within a system, which is quite restrictive.

Q. There are a number of private clinics around town, what’s sets you apart from the rest?

A. I believe every one of us has a specific role to play.

When I completed my studies in South Africa, I made a big decision to come back home to help my people.

When I got here, I realised that there was a lot that needed to be done for the people.

I am here to serve.

I am more than a business person, I am a servant of the nation and that is why I have a radio show, doing newspaper columns and being able to serve in leadership associations.

Q. Tell us more about the radio show.

A. We started the show a month ago at Duma FM, it is a beautiful show which aims to provide people with updates on Covid-19 issues, health and wellness tips.

This came after we realized that as the private sector, we were not doing enough in terms of educating the public on various health issues.

The radio show is going very well and is running between 21:00 and 23:00 hours

But my vision is for the show to be international, be it radio or television as I want to reach an international audience at some stage.

If you look at the talent that we have in this country, we can make it to the international stage if we collaborate.

Q. What is your view on the status of our healthcare system?

A. We have a lot of work to do because if you look at our health system, firstly there is a shortage of skills, we need to train and provide a conducive environment for training and remove impediments, which prohibit us from training more people.

Even the Health Professionals Act, the one which has licensed me, is not very clear on what levels of facilities we should have.

You seem to be a very busy man, how do you pass time?

During my spare time, I spend time with my family and because I also do a bit of farming, I usually take them to the farm.

I am not a man of restaurants because time is something, which I don’t have and wish I could be given an extra 48 hours on top of the seven days a week.

I also do sports, a bit of soccer and martial arts.

Thank God It’s Friday, what are you up to this weekend?

It is a bit difficult to say now because we have been back and forth with the lockdown, but I think I will just be home.

You can’t really plan for the weekend because you never know what will happen tomorrow.

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