- hospital staffers vaccinate ineligible people for M400 each,
- corrupt practice disadvantages deserving people who should be getting free jabs.
Limpho Sello/Mohalenyane Phakela
A HUGE scandal has rocked the government’s mass vaccination programme aimed at fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
This amid revelations that eight Motebang Hospital staffers are in hot soup for corruptly administering vaccines to ineligible people, mainly foreign nationals, in exchange for monetary payments. The hospital is the main referral facility in Leribe. Incidentally, the district is the hardest hit by the pandemic.
The hospital began the rollout of the second phase of the mass vaccination programme on 2 August 2021. However, health ministry sources said the programme had to be suspended last Thursday after the Public Health Nurse, Mamoferefere Zim, discovered that some ineligible people were being made to pay M400 fee each to be jabbed. The sources’ allegations were confirmed by Leribe District Administrator, Mohlomphehi Mohobelo.
Although there is no law against any locals or foreign nationals being vaccinated, the vaccination campaign is being rolled out in phases and certain categories of people including those with terminal conditions have been given first priority.
The first phase kicked off in March this year in Maseru with essential workers such as health and media practitioners being jabbed with 36 000 AstraZeneca vaccines that were donated by various development partners through the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The ministry also vaccinated the elderly and those with life-threatening conditions like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
During the months of June and July, these groups received their second and final doses after another 36 000 AstraZeneca vaccines were donated by France for the second phase of the vaccination programme.
When the second phase got underway on 2 August 2021, the government and the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) both announced that they were targeting people with terminal conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.
Others who would also be vaccinated are clothing and textile workers, the mining sector, law enforcement officials, teachers and students as well as Ministry of Home Affairs officials.
The vaccines are being administered free of charge to those in the qualifying categories. However, Motebang Hospital has been forced to suspend the vaccination programme after Ms Zim got wind of the illicit jabs-for-cash scandal at the facility.
The matter came to light after one of the nurses reported it to Ms Zim and the hospital authorities who then ordered the vaccination programme to be suspended.
The allegations are that the vaccines were sold to locals and foreign nationals, mostly Chinese, Pakistanis and Indians, who are not in the categories of people being vaccinated under the second phase.
The ‘beneficiaries’ would be told to arrive very early in the morning and they would be taken to a secret location within the hospital away from prying eyes as they were illegally jabbed in exchange for payment.
“Student nurses were instructed by the head of the injections department (name withheld on account of ongoing investigations) to prepare the vaccines for the locals and foreigners,” a source told the Lesotho Times this week.
“They would be injected in the medical examination room to ensure that they would not be seen by anyone.
“Each person was charged M400 for a jab. I am not sure how many people had paid for the vaccines by the time the staffers were caught. The illegal practice had been going for days when the staffers were caught. The Public Health Nurse (Ms Zim) got wind of the illegal acts and immediately reported to her superiors.
“There are eight people involved in this scandal including the head of the injections department who was also receiving the illegal payments. Two of the staffers who were not on the government payroll were immediately dismissed while the other six, including the head of the injections department, are still at work awaiting a disciplinary hearing.”
Contacted for comment yesterday, Motebang Hospital Medical Superintendent, Motjope Motjope, referred all questions to the Leribe District Administrator, Mr Mohobelo.
Mr Mohobelo confirmed that hospital staffers had been vaccinating ineligible people, especially Chinese and Indian nationals, in return for payments.
Mr Mohobelo said although he did not know the full extent of the jabs-for-cash activities, the scandal was unacceptable as it disadvantaged more vulnerable groups who were supposed to vaccinated first.
“When investigations were conducted by the hospital it was found that those who were being illegally jabbed did not meet the vaccination criteria. People who were prioritised were those with comorbidities (more than one terminal condition).
“We learned about this illegal practice shortly after the start of the vaccination programme and we acted fast to stop it. We have even deployed security personnel at the testing points to ensure that these practices do not resume,” Mr Mohobelo said.
On her part, NACOSEC CEO, ‘Malitaba Litaba, vowed to follow up on the issue to ensure the culprits are brought to book.
Dr Litaba said drastic, punitive measures had to meted out on the perpetrators because they were people who had abused the trust placed on them to run the country’s health system.
“This goes to show how much the Ministry of Health is failing to manage health professionals because most of them have turned health facilities into their play grounds. This is really sad and it says the management is failing to control health professionals.
“How can a health professional have the audacity to sell consumables that are meant to save people’s lives? This shows that health professionals in the country are unruly and are not ashamed to be involved in criminal activities,” Dr Litaba said.
The forthright CEO said the corruption would only frustrate NACOSEC’s efforts to fight the deadly pandemic.
“Vaccinations are one of the strategies that Lesotho and other countries are employing to fight Covid-19. It is therefore sad that such efforts are being derailed by the same health professionals who are supposed to be leading the fight against the pandemic.
“It is my hope that the hospital management will ensure that the culprits are brought to book,” Dr Litaba said.
By yesterday, Lesotho had recorded 14 352 people infections and 399 deaths.
Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro last month imposed a stricter nationwide lockdown, including a ban on international travel and large gatherings, amid indications that Lesotho was now battling three highly contagious variants of the Covid-19 virus.
These include the South African variant, Delta variant and the United Kingdom mutation of the Lambda variant first identified in Peru last August.
Of these, the Delta variant is the most virulent with reports saying it is responsible for 83 percent of Covid-19 cases in the United States (US).
The US is the world leader in Covid-19 cases with 37 909 829 infections and 640 181 deaths having been recorded by yesterday.
India, the country where the Delta variant was first identified, is a close second with 32 295 224 infections and 432 834 deaths by yesterday.
All three variants have now been identified in Lesotho, Dr Majoro said.
Incidentally, Leribe, where the jabs-for-cash scandal unfolded, is the district hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
NACOSEC said they had recorded acute infections rates in schools and factories last month. This prompted the government to begin the second phase of its mass vaccination campaign in the district before rolling it out to other districts.
This article was possible because of the support of the German federal foreign office and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (IFA) Zivik funding programme. The views presented in this article do not represent the views of the German federal foreign office nor the IFA.