Impressive Progress in Upgrading Healthcare

Shenaaz El-Halabi, Botswana’s Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health
Shenaaz El-Halabi, Botswana’s Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health

Botswana has achieved an exceptional track record in improving its healthcare facilities and services. Shenaaz El-Halabi, Botswana’s Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, discusses her country’s healthcare achievements and goals.

European Times: What are some of Botswana’s major healthcare advances?

Shenaaz El-Halabi: We have greatly improved access to healthcare; 85% of our people live within five km of health services and 95% live within 15 km. Botswana also recognised the AIDS problem very early and now 98% of our HIV/AIDS patients are receiving ARV treatment. We have stepped up measures to prevent HIV and we have reduced mother-to-child transmission from 40% to less than 2%. Concerning the UN Millennium Development Goals, Botswana has almost reached goal four (infant and child mortality) and goal five (maternal mortality) and has made great progress towards goal six (reducing infectious diseases). We recently launched the HPV vaccine and have vaccinated 98% of our young girls.

European Times: What are some of the main challenges for the healthcare sector?

Shenaaz El-Halabi: Botswana is one of the few African countries to have reached the Abuja Target, with 15% of total government expenditure allocated to healthcare, and around half of our healthcare projects are funded by the government, but we need to increase participation by the private sector. We will continue to work towards reducing our disease burdens through the Sustainable Development Goals and we are adopting and implementing the World Health Organisation’s “test and treat” strategy for the treatment of HIV infection. We want to eliminate malaria by 2018. One of Botswana’s challenges is that it is ranked an upper-middle-income country, which makes us ineligible for some types of international funding, yet investors in healthcare will see results much quicker here. We want to make more progress in fighting non-communicable diseases and we are creating screening programmes, for example against cancer of the cervix.

European Times: What are your main healthcare goals?

Shenaaz El-Halabi: I want to boost prevention; ensure sustainable, high-quality health services; and provide universal healthcare coverage. We are currently empowering district health-management teams. Botswana has six healthcare Centres of Excellence which make the country attractive for health tourism, and we are in discussions with a major partner to set up a pediatric oncology centre. We will continue to work with the UN, the WHO, the EU and other international organisations, and we welcome private-sector partners.

European Times: What is your personal message?

Shenaaz El-Halabi: Healthcare is the key to economic prosperity and development. For investors, Botswana offers political stability, commitment, accountability and value for money.