OUTGOING World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Zimbabwe Dr David Okello has urged Government to fund the health sector despite the current challenges related to resource shortages. Dr Okello was speaking at the Zimbabwe Annual Medical Research Day recently.
“Public health is constantly fighting to gain attention and resources. Many of the mechanisms and infrastructures that safeguard public health on a daily basis go unnoticed until something dramatic goes wrong. The need to invest in health may come into view only when the food or water supply is contaminated, or when the stocks of essential medicines procured through support from partners suddenly run out, and/or when surveillance misses the start of a major outbreak,” he said.
“Although the consequences of such failures are costly and disruptive, public health still struggles to persuade Government to invest in basic infrastructures and services — before something catastrophic happens.”
Dr Okello said lifestyle changes join demographic trends to cause a dramatic rise in Non-Communicable diseases (NCDs).
“The new burden of NCDs comes at a time when the country is still struggling to bring infectious diseases under control.
“Fortunately, NCDs are largely caused by a small number of shared risk factors, including: improper diet, inadequate physical activity, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption. I would like to appeal to the researchers to find feasible ways of confronting the risk factors to NCDs. We must pressurise industries to stop marketing dangerous products to our children. In addition, action is needed to protect the population against harmful practices such as drug abuse and other unhealthy life styles; and to provide them with reliable, trustworthy information and advice.”
Dr Okello also spoke on the need to curb road traffic accidents.
“Road traffic accidents have reached totally unacceptable levels. We know that these accidents are largely preventable if different relevant initiatives are implemented conscientiously. The risk factors are mainly behavioural – including non-compliance with road traffic regulations and harmful use of alcohol, among others.
It is also about time we paid attention and got better understanding on who actually is injured on the roads; and what is the impact of the injuries on families and communities. This remains an area of much needed research, to examine the full knock on consequences of road injuries. We should not limit our concerns just on medical treatment and rehabilitation of victims of RTAs.”
Dr Okello said there was need to consider how the health system could withstand and be resilient in the face of an economic slowdown.
“By resilient, I mean health actors, institutions and populations being able to absorb shocks and maintain core functions and good health when a crisis hits, and draw from the lessons learnt during the crisis, to reorganise and remain viable.
Resilience also implies an ability to draw on personal resources to face adverse circumstances, ensure effective prioritisation and protect core functions. In my opinion, we should pay particular attention to building resilience at the district health systems level. As we all know, previous efforts on strengthening district health systems are yet to provide convincing and sustainable results. More work and evidence is therefore needed on what works best at that level,” he said.
Dr Okello said there was also need to consider the role of the private sector in provision of healthcare. “Another crucial issue here in Zimbabwe is the role of the private sector in provision of healthcare services; and how we should fully exploit their potential in moving towards universal health care (UHC).”