The Kingdom of Eswatini is a small landlocked country where 70 percent of its population is living under the poverty line. Although primary health care is free to its citizens, it is common for individuals to end up paying out of pocket for medical assistance due to the poor quality of the government subsidized health system. On the 11th of July 2023, during his national address (Sibaya) King Mswati III assured the Eswatini (Swazi) nation that issues pertaining to health care, mainly the availability of medication and health professionals in hospitals had been dealt with. However, not more than a month after the king’s assurance of quality health care, the country is facing a historic health crisis.
There is a country-wide shortage of medication in all government hospitals. This has lead individuals and invested groups into submitting petitions and holding public demonstrations. Things took a dramatic turn on the 26th of July 2023 when the patients at the country’s capital city (Mbabane) protested. Patients at Mbabane Government Hospital used their beds to barricade the hospital’s exits and started protesting demanding they be provided with medical assistance. This prompted a response from the Minister of Health, Lizzie Nkosi, who rushed to Mbabane Government Hospital on the same day (Wednesday) in the afternoon shortly after the patients staged the protest. The Minister addressed the protesting patients and asked them to be patient while her department worked on the issue of providing medication.
Government officials along with King Mswati III have been criticized for the low standards in government hospitals. Most say the government intentionally neglect public health facilities as none of them have to experience such substandard health care. Criticism over the health care crisis was intensified on the 25th of July 2023 when King Mswati's senior wife Sibonelo Mngomezulu, known as Inkhosikati Lambikiza, was reported to be seriously ill and had to be rushed to an undisclosed private Hospital in South Africa.
In response Nkosing’phile Seyama, the Secretary General of the Swazis First Democratic Front (SFDF) released a statement criticizing King Mswati’s regime for the escalating health crisis in the country. “The SFDF is shocked by the current prevailing health care situation in Swaziland. Swazis remain a nation without a democratic system and the inhumane activities displayed by a nation heading towards the deep and dark corridors of disaster remains not only pathetic but uncalled for and leaderless. While Swazis remain treated as slaves and subjects to a so-called king and his regime, royalty still holds the epitome card of care and luxury. As a common phenomenon Swazis die and continuously suffer the medical atrocities of an alarming medical shortage, the king's wives enjoy the pleasure of being flown out to Netcare's South African medical health facilities,” reads the statement in part.
While some put the blame entirely on the king, it is important to note the significance corruption plays on this issue. On a yearly basis medical equipment and medication amounting to millions of Emalangeni (SZL) disappear within the public health sector. A report released by The Times of eSwatini last year (2022) September suggested that an investigation conducted by the government uncovered that private pharmacies were selling medications allegedly stolen from public hospitals.
Thula Mtsetfwa, the founder of the Kingdom of Eswatini Pharmacy Association (KEPA) however states that the blame still lies with the government for failing to investigate the alleged theft in public hospitals and called for an independent body to investigate both the public and private health institutions. "Government is shifting the focus from its failure to supply drugs in hospitals by claiming that we are stealing from them. The root cause for all these is the absence of a Pharmacy Council that would investigate the rot in both the public and private institutions”, Mtsetfwa said.
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