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UN initiative speeds up service delivery

Two months ago, hospitals in Botswana had to wait four months for the delivery of emergency medicines, but with the help of a UN initiative this has now been slashed to just six days.

The Southern African Capacity Initiative (SACI), launched in 2004 to deal with the haemorrhaging of administrative skills in the region as a result of HIV/AIDS and the brain drain, has begun to pay dividends, according to Tore Skatun, a policy advisor with the initiative.

SACI promotes best business practices used in the private sector to help identify bottlenecks in service delivery, and designs interventions to produce better time management and eliminate duplication, he said. SACI also uses volunteers to fill in skills shortages.

A 2004 preliminary review of the public service in the region showed that most institutions were operating on "pre-HIV and AIDS period" norms and procedures, said SACI spokeswoman Agnes Phiri. Many governments in southern Africa, which has the highest HIV infection rates in the world, had last reviewed the number of employees in public service in 1974. It was therefore not surprising they were unprepared when their public services began to feel the effects of AIDS in the later nineties.

Brain drain and HIV/AIDS have had a tremendous impact on the skills pool of a region with a population of 180 million people, that has been weighed down by food insecurity and widening poverty.

Zambia's reportedly loses 1,000 teachers to HIV/AIDS each year; Malawi has only 13 doctors in its 27 district hospitals because many have left for better-paid jobs in other countries. According to the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration, a third to a half the graduates of South African medical schools emigrate to the developed world every year.

"But what we found was that the problem was not always related to shortage of capacity," said Anne Githuku, a policy advisor with SACI. In Namibia's last budget, the department of home affairs put in a request to employ 750 migration officials to reduce the time for issuing passports, which took up to 24 months. SACI has helped reduce this to three days in the past six months, "and they did not even have to employ any additional staff."

Retention rather than capacity is a major issue, according to Zambian civil society activist and researcher, Jack Jones Zulu. "Most people migrate because they earn poor salaries: teachers in Zambia earn about US$200 a month, while they are paid monthly salaries of $500 in Botswana."

Governments have begun to offer incentives to retain employees. Doctors in Zambia are being offered car allowances, and in 2004 the UK Department for International Development stepped in with a six-year financial support programme for Malawi's health system to help raise the salaries of health workers.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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