Chairman’s Speech—SSGMC LAUNCH 4th Nov. 2015
Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Hon, Dr. Martin Elia Lomoro Central Equatoria Governor, represented by Felix Lado, State Minister of Health. Ms. Nicole Klingen – Practice Manager, Health Nutrition and Population, World Bank Group Prof. Khama Rogo – Lead Health Specialist /Head, Health in Africa Initiative, World Bank Group Dr. Bernard Olayo, Policy Officer/Program Lead, Health in Africa Initiative, South Sudan Representative of the Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Riak Gai All protocol observed Dear Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen, On behalf of the members and staff of the SSGMC, I welcome and thank you all for making time to attend this belated but important ceremony. It is no secret that things have not been going well for us in the health care and other sectors especially in recent years, often due to factors beyond our control. Suffering in all its forms has never kept us down as we are a tenacious and resilient people who adapt to whatever conditions we find ourselves in including some of the worst health indicators in the world. We have proven our tenacity and resilience again and again in our long history of strife as we suffered silently and managed to smile, sing and even dance in the midstt of all the misery. Rain clouds might gather in our skies and the sun disappears from view but, if we look carefully, there is always that silver lining in the clouds— a sure sign that day light will follow when the storm passes. We are a young nation and our tribulations will certainly come to an end one day as the storm will certainly pass. We are here today to officially launch the SSGMC website and formalise its activities. We all hope its formation will help ease our suffering by ensuring that we are treated by competent and safe medical practitioners in safe health care institutions. People ask why it has taken so long to establish such an important health care regulatory body in the country. I must say this was not due to lack of trying. Shortly before our independence in 2011, Dr. Eluzai Hakim Abe drafted a concept paper in collaboration with myself and Prof. James Hakim Gita for the formation of a general medical council for the new nation. This was presented to the health authorities of GOSS then but it was shelved and it remained only a discussion point until the post independence authorities revisited the subject. Credit goes to our ministries of health and justice for compiling the GMC Provisional Order signed by the president of the Republic, H.E Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit, on 10th April 2014. The Order was eventually passed into law in December the same year by Parliament and is now the GMC Act. We all know our health care sector has been doing poorly because of the regulatory vacuum. The absence of a central and overarching regulatory body and legislation to control the practice of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy created a window of opportunity for unscrupulous characters to manipulate the public under our very eyes. In other words, the health care sector has been free for all to abuse as we have become painfully aware over the years. Characters from all corners of the earth saw their opportunity and set up shop quickly in this new country where people so trust they rarely question credentials. All the diseases known to mankind were eventually distilled into two principal diseases— typhoid and malaria and treated as such with a variety of drugs of unknown origin with uncertain efficacy. It did not matter if you only spoke Mandarin, Cantonese, or Luganda. In fact the more gibberish you spoke the more patients flocked to your clinic as we have the habit of admiring the mysterious and unknown. Most patients are prescribed multi-coloured concoctions administered invariably by injection in a drip with the patient seated on a chair after which they are instructed to return the following day for the same. When these exotic treatments fail to achieve their intended goal, it is not unusual for the patient to actively campaign for a referral to Jordan, Germany, India or South Africa at the expense of the government. The referral letters are often solicited by presenting fake medical reports and pro forma invoices with exorbitant estimates–purportedly from major hospitals abroad. In reality, these documents are obtained at a fee from fraudsters who have set up shop in the city for that sole purpose. We all know how much harm this practise has done to the economy of the country. The SSGMC will endeavor to support the current efforts by the government to correct these harmful and unsustainable practices. The Council is empowered by the provisional constitution to ensure that all health care institutions are run by qualified staff and provide safe and effective patient care. In other words the Council is the de facto auditor of the health care system in the country and have the legal mandate to deregister errant doctors and deny registration to unqualified doctors and non-complaint institutions. This process will eventually affect government health care institutions if they do not satisfy the safety criteria set by the Council. Our presence here today is testimony to that fact and also acts as the dawn to a new era in our health care system. We still have a long way to go but happy that we are moving towards our vision of ensuring professional practice by doctors and health care institutions in the interest of patient safety. We pledged in our strategic statement that we will partner with other stakeholders in the health care sector to develop a wider environment focused on ensuring patient safety. The presence of our health care partners here today is testimony to this endeavour to include and engage while remaining an objective and independent voice. This occasion would not have been possible without the support of the HIA Initiative team from the World Bank Group who are here today. The Head of the HIA Initiative, Prof. Khama Rogo is accompanied by the Program Lead and Policy Officer for South Sudan, Dr. Bernard Olayo. Other senior officials who are also here are Nicole Klingen – Practice Manager, Health Nutrition and Population, World Bank Group and Melanie Mayhem, the Communications Officer, World Bank Group. Their presence here underpins the importance of this occasion and what it signifies. Their partnership with us is not new as they have consistently supported various projects for our health care system since the signing of the CPA in 2005. They also lobbied intensively for the establishment of health care regulatory bodies in South Sudan and were instrumental in the establishment of the drug and food safety authority in the country. The organisation fully appreciates the formidable health care issues facing us in the Africa region. As a Council, we realized early after formation that we had no access to tangible resources to effectively start operations. This situation has persisted and we still have recruitment, office space, transportation, and other challenges due to factors beyond our control and perhaps the control of our government. We all know it is not possible to run an organization effectively without offices, staff, and transport as well as communication technology. There was a need for the Council to move fast and set up basic processes to provisionally start registering our health care practitioners. Many were beginning to face validation issues with their documents when travelling to foreign countries for study or work. We approached the HIA to support us in building a website, print stationary and registration certificates to kick start this process. This has come to pass in the last six months as a collaborative effort between the Council and the HIA initiative team who provided the consultant to coordinate our activities and financed the whole project including the launching ceremony today. The HIA Initiative also sponsored two of our members to attend the Association of Medical Councils of Africa meeting in Mombasa, Kenya in September this year. It was an excellent opportunity for our Registrar and myself to interact and network with other colleagues from other member countries. At the meeting, we took the opportunity to apply to join both the Association of Medical Councils of African (AMCOA) as well as the International Association of Medical Regulatory Authorities (IAMRA). As the saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed. We can never thank them enough for their timely support and going the extra mile to make sure that we do not stall at the beginning of our journey. Another partner who has supported the council albeit at a slower pace is the WHO regional office in Juba. They engaged a consultant to do a quick evaluation of our statutes in the Council Act and will come up with suggestions to strengthen them. We are truly privileged and honored to be associated with these great organizations. I would like to acknowledge the efforts of others who contributed and continue to contribute to the establishment and running of the Council. Our gratitude goes to the Minister of Justice, Hon. Walawilla for his role in overseeing the drafting of the Provisional Order for the SSGMC and providing the legal framework. We are also grateful to our Minister of Cabinet Affairs and guest of honour today at this ceremony, Hon. Elia Lomoro, and his senior staff for their continued support and assistance to the SSGMC. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow council members for their continued support and hard work. It has been a difficult journey for all of us so far but we shall certainly achieve our strategic goals. We would not have been able to come this far–in the absence of support staff–without our secretariat. Dr. Margret Betty Eyobo and Dr. Buchay Othom are council members and senior administrators in their respective places of work. They have managed to take time off from their busy schedules and gracefully taken up the role of our accountants, secretaries and administrators. Thank you ladies for carrying us this far. We would also like to acknowledge and thank our only official so far and the Registrar of the council, Dr. Joy Theophilus, for singlehandedly tackling the difficult task of managing the provisional registration process pending the official launch today. Her no nonsense approach to work has made her sometimes unpopular with individuals seeking short cuts to being registered but we are determined to validate all documents and ensure that no one cheats or bypasses the system. Last but not least we acknowledge the efforts of Hon. Dr Riak Gai, the Minister of Health. We appreciate and value your encouragement, ideas and support. Before we proceed with the launching ceremony, I would like to take a minute or two to formally announce the sad loss of one of our council members, Dr. Cain Jacob Lewak, a pharmacist, who succumbed to a very short illness several months ago. The circumstances of his demise were not complimentary to the quality of our acute care services as his life could probably have been saved using the correct resuscitative interventions. He was an active member of council and an amicable good natured colleague who served on several council committees. May the almighty Lord rest his soul in eternal peace? Please let us stand up for a minute of silence in his memory. I thank you all once again for being here. John Adwok