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PM suspends exercise as ministers clash

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By CASSANDRA SHAW AND ZWELIHLE SU SWAZI TIMES-30-Sep-2009

MBABANE – Following the public clash between the Ministers of Health and that of Education over the de-worming exercise, Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini has suspended the campaign.

Dlamini said the suspension was in view of the conflicting signals from the two ministers, Wilson Ntshangase and Benedict Xaba. The two clashed during a breakfast meeting held at Mountain Inn yesterday to give feedback on the de-worming exercise that resulted in close to 800 pupils being hospitalised.

Ntshangase had said he was mystified as to why nurses were not dispatched to administer the taking of the bilharzia and de-worming pills instead of teachers. He noted that teachers would have shouldered the blame, should the children have died. However, Xaba seemed not to have taken kindly to Ntshangase’s utterances and said there must be a clear distinction between a technical and political issue.

In view of the above, the premier said it had been brought to his attention that there was a degree of misunderstanding between the two ministries regarding the school’s de-worming campaign. He said government was currently reviewing the campaign in some detail, a review that includes ensuring that all ministries had a clear and common understanding of the campaign and any problems that would have arisen during its implementation.

“It is essential that the understanding and views of all ministries are in harmony with one another. In view of the conflicting signals from the two ministries, government has suspended the campaign pending completion of the review,” he explained. The head of government apologised to the nation for the apparent confusion during yesterday’s discussion of the campaign. “A fully clarified position and policy directive on the matter will be issued by government as soon as the necessary consultation with stakeholders has been completed,” he added.

How the ministers clashed at big meet

MBABANE – There was tension as Minister of Education, Wilson Ntshangase took on Health Minister, Benedict Xaba publically over the schools de-worming saga.

This was during a breakfast meeting, which was held yesterday at the Mountain Inn. The meeting was an update on developments over the schools de-worming campaign which saw hundreds of pupils being rushed to hospitals after taking both bilharzia and de-worming drugs.

After World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) representatives, Owen Kaluwa and Muriel Mafico respectively, had made their submissions, Ntshangase took the podium. He congratulated the health ministry for having organised the briefing to alert the nation on what really transpired during the exercise. He then made it clear that he had not come to the breakfast meeting to do anyone favours. Ntshangase alleged that teachers were not called to attend any training on the distribution of bilharzia and de-worming drugs. On the other hand Xaba said he was not pleased by the way his colleague engaged him on the matter.

“I have a serious problem with the way the whole exercise was done, whether by the World Health Organisation or whosoever,” said the minister who was not in his usual jolly mood. “Something is wrong with these tablets as many children have been affected,” said the education minister. “Teachers were going to take the blame had these children died and I just wonder why medical professionals like nurses were not dispatched to these schools, to administer the taking of the drugs,” Ntshangase went on.

Prescribe

Ntshangase said when he goes to the hospital he expects a nurse or medical practitioner to prescribe medication to him, not just anyone. “We heard radio broadcast announcements that teachers should fetch drugs from Regional Education Offices to give to the pupils. I hereby tell nothing but the truth,” the minister said. The room was filled with laughter when Ntshangase said he wondered if teachers were educated about the exercise at night.

Xaba on the other hand raised his concerns about the way Ntshangase engaged him, saying this was a technical issue which was why he had brought both the WHO and UNICEF representatives. “I apologise on behalf of government for the misunderstanding and it is normal that when problems arrive we react differently,” said Xaba. “Teachers were educated about the de-worming exercise during a workshop to which we have a register with all those who attended. This exercise has taught us a lesson. In fact, it was a post mortem.

However, I would like to advise people never to engage the minister on air but in the office as some issues are technical and others political,” said minister Xaba. In response, Ntshangase alleged that all the teachers he had communicated with were not thoroughly trained. “I can even bring them here,” he said. Information gathered earlier from Mater Dolorosa High School teachers was that teachers were called for training for a one day workshop.

‘Exercise reminds me of slavery days’

MBABANE – Minister of Education Wilson Ntshangase says the country’s de-worming exercise reminds him of the days of slavery.

The minister said this during yesterday’s breakfast meeting held at the Mountain Inn. His gripe, he said, was that he was not involved in the programme. He said he was even reluctant to attend the breakfast meeting.

“You cannot just come to me and say ‘come for a meeting’ as that would mean you are pulling me by the nose,” he said, pulling his nose in demonstration. Ntshangase said he was “very bitter” in the way the whole exercise was carried out as it should have been done accordingly. “But I have come to tell the truth,” he said. He said the way the exercise was carried out looked down upon the lives of people.

“This reminds me of the slave trade where people were stashed into boats with no care in the world whether they would make it to the other side or died in the boats,” said the minister, with a straight face.

Minister says it’s normal for children to fall sick if...

MBABANE – Health Minister Benedict Xaba says it was normal and expected that children with heavy worm infestation fall sick after taking bilharzia tablets.

Praziquantel is the drug given to pupils in schools as a preventative measure. The minister attributed this to a heavy worm infestation load. “Children with heavy worm infestation tend to experience side effects due to treatment response. Praziquantel, not only kills bilharzia worms but also eliminates the tapeworms that are embedded in the gut,” explained the Health minister.

He said in the process, the erosion of the gut occurs resulting in severe pains, diarrhoea and vomiting. “Drowsiness, dizziness, gastro-intestinal disturbances, generalised body rash and headache are a normal response of the body to the treatment.

“As in 2007 and 2008, both Prazinquantel and Albendazole were given to children in middle and lowveld schools without adverse events. In 2009, the highveld was targeted for the same exercise. The side effects observed in these areas are, therefore, most likely to be due to heavy worm infestation in children,” said Xaba.


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