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Staffing shortages hit health centres

by Lesotho Times
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Limpho Sello

EFFORTS to curb the spread of Covid-19 through contact tracing and isolating infected persons have been dealt a blow after the Health Ministry refused to renew the contracts of the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC’s) temporary employees.

The Lesotho Times is reliably informed that the ministry has since May 2021 been refusing to renew the contracts. Some of the contracts expired in May while some are expiring this month.

Among the affected workers are temporary nurses and health assistants who were charged with conducting contact tracing and facilitating quarantining of infected persons in communities.

A source close to the matter yesterday said if the contracts are not renewed, Lesotho’s 286 health centres could be facing crippling staffing shortages which will eventually negatively impact the Covid-19 fight.

The government last year employed an undisclosed number of support staffers who are helping health centres and quarantine centres manage Covid-19 response initiatives. The workers were working in health centres spread across the country.

However, the government has now refused to renew their contracts.

“We are experiencing the third wave of Covid-19 infections but Health ministry has refused to renew the contracts of temporary staff despite the high number of cases that we are experiencing,” the source said.

“Maseru and Leribe, which are recording the highest number of Covid-19 cases, will be the worst affected districts. Already there is a challenge because the ministry refused to renew the contracts of some health assistants which expired in May.

“The move will create a vicious cycle because contact tracing initiatives and isolation of cases will be affected.”

Earlier this year, NACOSEC lobbied to receive and distribute donations from different partners. However, the initiative has allegedly not received support from the government. And the source yesterday said the resistance has made it difficult for NACOSEC to exercise its functions in different communities.

“Fortunately, some partners are in support of the strategy and are willing to mobilise their resources and donate to community structures which are on the ground instead of giving to the government which takes ages to distribute the donations,” he said.

Contacted for comments yesterday, NACOSEC chief executive officer (CEO) opted not to comment on the matter.

On his part, Health minister Semano Sekatle yesterday said his ministry was moving away from the model of hiring temporary employees. Instead, it will soon start hiring permanent workers only.

“We are no longer going to hire people temporarily. The posts require intensive training and we cannot continue hiring temporary workers for such posts.

“We also cannot ignore the law which stipulates that employees cannot be temporarily hired for more than six months,” Mr Sekatle said.

While he acknowledged that there was a shortage of personnel in health centres, Mr Sekatle said NACOSEC would have to manage with the available staff until the recruitment exercise is completed. He however, could not be drawn into saying when the process will be completed.

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