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Gov’t U-turns on prohibitive medical policy

Government has abandoned a health policy that denied medical coverage to people injured during alcohol-related incidents including those associated with suicide and lung cancer.

This subsequently led to the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) dropping the legal action it pursued at the High Court.

The health policy, which was introduced in March 29, 2017 through a savingram by permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Shenaaz El-Halabi during former President Ian Khama’s administration stated that the implementation of removal of medical cover for self-inflicted injuries will be on; drunk-driving, riding motorbikes without helmet, failure to use seat belts for self or children as passengers, participation in riots and mass gatherings involving violence leading to injury, lung cancer associated with tobacco and tobacco products, and attempted suicide related to alcohol or drug abuse.

 At the time when it was introduced, El-Halabi stated that the fundamental principle behind the removal of medical cover on self-harm is that those responsible for causing injury to themselves should meet the medical cost of their treatment.

The costs included the recovery of the ambulance journey costs. She said it has become increasingly clear that the cost of sustaining medical services has continued to escalate and while a new health financing strategy, which will articulate various health funding modalities is being developed, some services given in some segments of patients will have to be paid for.

The policy was unpopular and caused such uproar, with many people associating the policy with Khama’s disdain for alcohol.   The move was condemned in the strongest possible

terms in some quarters of the public including opposition parties such as BCP who later sued government over the policy.

Following the withdrawal of the policy in December 2018, BCP has subsequently also discontinued its legal pursuit. The two parties consented that the matter be withdrawn because the policy has been withdrawn. The consent agreement was made an order of the court on December 14, 2018 by High Court judge, Justice Michael Leburu. “It is ordered by consent that the respondents confirm having withdrawn the Savingram of 29th March 2017.

Consequently the applicant withdraws the application. There will be no order as to costs,” the order read. BCP had argued that the policy was draconian as it infringed on the citizens’ right to medical care. It also said the policy was discriminatory and unconstitutional and in breach of the Health Act in so far as it relates to patients associated with what the directive classifies as self-inflicted harm.

The BCP said the permanent secretary in the ministry or such party as have taken the decision, the subject of this complaint has gone beyond the powers conferred upon it by the Public Health Act and its regulations and has consequently acted ultra vires and therefore reviewable. BCP demanded an order setting aside and declaring as unlawful and null and void, the entire Savingram as well as declaring the policy unconstitutional.


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