Public Health & Health Systems

Mseleku axed

Written by Health-e News

Health department Director General Thami Mseleku, a destructive leftover from former health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’€™s reign, will leave the end of the month, with the Western Cape’€™s Director-General for Health Professor Craig Househam set to step in.

Unconfirmed reports of Mseleku’€™s departure and Househam’€™s appointment have been doing the rounds for several days and have been confirmed by several sources, some within the national health department.

Fidel Hadebe, spokesperson for health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, has declined to comment while Househam denied, via his spokesperson Faiza Steyn, that he had been approached.

Dr Francois Venter, president of the Southern African HIV Clincians Society said he had also heard the rumours that Mseleku was on his way out.

‘€œHe, with Tshabalala-Msimang, grossly mismanaged our health system and cost hundreds of thousands of South African lives. In a just world, they would both go to jail.   The HIV world is just pleased to see the back of him,’€ said Venter.

Mseleku, referred to in the corridors as ‘€œManto’€™s bodyguard’€,  has not endeared himself to any of the stakeholders in the health sector.

He left his post as Education Director General and was appointed Health DG in January 2005. He shied away from involvement in health policy issues, opting to plunge head first into the political controversies involving the health department ‘€“ most notably those involving HIV/AIDS.

He took a personal interest in controversial vitamin seller Dr Matthias Rath, exonerating him from any wrongdoing, asking a New Yorker journalist during an interview: ‘€œWhat, exactly, was Rath’€™s crime?’€

Court papers later revealed that Mseleku’€™s claims that his department had investigated Rath, involved two telephone calls, both to Rath employees.

Later Mseleku  refused to take action against uBhejane, a concoction sold as an AIDS cure by former truck driver Zeblon Gwala,  and described criticism of uBhejane as ‘€œcolonialist’€.

Mseleku was also instrumental in getting the Treatment Action Campaign and AIDS Law Project excluded from a United Nations General Assembly Special Session on AIDS.

He had told unhappy AIDS activists in a meeting about the matter: ‘€œWe are government. We have been given a mandate to govern. All of you must just shut up.’€

In 2006, Mseleku ordered all provincial heads of department to refuse media interviews on HIV/AIDS in the wake of the health minister’€™s humiliation at the Toronto AIDS conference and a possible visit to the country by UN AIDS envoy Stephen Lewis.

In the same year, he forbade departmental officials to attend a meeting convened by the Nelson Mandela Foundation aimed at encouraging dialogue between government and HIV/AIDS scientists.

Last year, 19 of the world’€™s foremost health and human rights experts condemned Mseleku’€™s comment at a TB conference that ‘€œhuman rights are not relevant to the considerations of health policy in a developmental state’€.

More recently, there have been calls for Mseleku’€™s head to roll over  the poor handling of the occupational specific dispensation (OSD) for doctors, dentists, pharmacists and emergency medical personnel ‘€“ which led to a widespread strike by doctors.

The implementation of OSD for nurses happened without anybody at the National Health Department, specifically Mseleku, fulfilling a proper and meaningful oversight role.

It is also widely accepted that Mseleku was the main instigator behind the firing of Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madala-Routledge in 2007. Described by many working in HIV/AIDS as their darkest time, Madlala-Routledge has spoken about how she had been sidelined, bullied, ignored and been made to feel like a ‘€œhandbag, that can be picked up when they needed me or not’€ during her more than three years in the health department.

She revealed how she had been barred from getting access to any information from health department officials as Mseleku had instructed senior management to not liaise with her. ‘€œInstead I had to make a submission to the health minister and she would decide whether I could see it or not.’€

Househam, DG in the province since 2002, will inherit a department low on morale and with a huge vacancy rate. Househam has been lauded for his achievements in the Western Cape, but has not endeared himself to academics at the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch.

The former University of Free State professsor has not hesitated in diverting funds from academic hospitals to secondary and primary health care sites, placing massive pressure on the institutions and eliciting a backlash from senior specialists.

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Health-e News

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