No MRI scanners in public hospitals

10 March 2021 | Health

JEMIMA BEUKES

The government depends on the private healthcare sector to conduct medical image screening since there is no such equipment in the public sector.

The situation forces the health ministry to pay private doctors millions to fill the gap.

Government has allocated N$8 million for state patients to receive medical imaging services from selected private health facilities.

A document from the health ministry dated 6 October 2020 details the government’s spending plans of N$8 million for the current financial year.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body.

An amount N$7 million is budgeted for Medical Imaging, a private radiology practice, to provide MRI scans, as well as N$1 million for Proscan Medical Services for the same services.

A further N$1 million has been allocated Dr Vaja Zatjirua for Electro Encephalogram (EEG) services and N$1 million to Namibia Nuclear Imaging for nuclear scans was also allocated.

The executive director in the health ministry, Ben Nangombe, confirmed the allocations.

He explained that the suppliers are pre-qualified for referral purposes based on historical data but may vary depending on actual referrals and evaluations carried out.

Nangombe said the budget is based on Namaf rates for specialist services and on local demand and pointed out that referrals are done as the needs arise.

“The arrangement is to refer to the most cost-effective service provider and consider others if the most cost effective is not able to accommodate additional patients or referrals but lives need to be saved. We are in the process of re-engineering the process to bring in more efficiencies and cost saving,” he said.

Acquisitions

He added that the state has acquired various high-tech medical equipment which includes a fluoroscopy machine for Oshakati Intermediate Hospital, 3D CT Simulator for AB May Cancer Centre at Windhoek Central Hospital and a digital X-ray system for various referral and district hospitals and anaesthetic machines for theatres in several facilities.

“However, there are still facilities where equipment is not sufficient. Please note that the acquisition of medical equipment is a capital-intensive programme which requires hundreds of millions. Equipment such as linear accelerators and MRI scanners are still to be procured. There are currently no MRI scanners in the public health facilities,” he said.

He added that buying these machines must be considered carefully as additional costs for maintenance and specialised staff such as medical engineers and technicians may prove to be very costly.

Medical lease scheme

A medical lease scheme which had been mooted n 2015 was revisited in 2020 but was found to be unaffordable for the government.

“It was thus shelved while the ministry considers refurbishment and acquisition of medical equipment through turnkey projects and other options to solve the longstanding medical equipment conundrum in the county,” he said.

Nangombe yesterday dismissed claims that procuring services from Dr Zatjirua, who is involved with the health ministry, presents a conflict of interest.

“The medical professionals cited in your enquiry, although employed by the state, are not in any way involved in the development of policies as far as the acquisition of equipment and referrals and related services is concerned.

“They are also not involved in the planning and budgeting of various programmes that the ministry is undertaking. Therefore, their influence with regards to referrals of state patients to private institutions is insignificant,” said Nangombe.

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