Paidamoyo Chipunza: Senior Reporter
The country must prioritise funding for health to revitalise the sector and ensure that no-one dies due to poor service delivery, senior Government officials have said.Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa said the “job freeze policy” must never apply to the health sector as it only complicated the state of affairs while his former deputy, Dr Paul Chimedza, implored on Treasury to increase the health budget to improve health service delivery.
Speaking during the launch of the 2016-2020 National Health Strategy in Murehwa recently, Dr Parirenyatwa said it was sad that qualified health personnel could no longer be employed in the public sector, not because their services were no longer needed but because Government cannot afford to pay them.
“The health sector should be a no go area in terms of job freezes. We still need more doctors, we still need more nurses in our health facilities,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.
Dr Parirenyatwa said the health sector was looking forward to improving service delivery by prioritising issues of human resources, disease burden and infrastructure among others.
He said for 2017 alone, this required an estimated $1,3 billion and about $8 billion for the five year period.
Sadly, the sector is usually allocated around $500 000, falling far short the Ministry’s expected budget and the regional targets of 15 percent towards health.
Contributing to the debate on the National Budget in Parliament on Tuesday, Dr Chimedza who is also a member of the Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care said denying funding to the health sector was tantamount to sentencing people to death.
“I think we are very clear that, what it means when we say a theatre has been closed; it means people are going to die. Diseases do not stop because manyimwa mari, the diseases do not stop because tamboshaya mari yekutenga mushonga. So, when we say Harare Central Hospital has closed, it means our people are dying. When we say Gwanda Hospital has closed, it means vanhu varikufa.
“So, when we then sit and allocate in terms of priority, toziva kuti mari hapana but we are saying of the money that is there, why not prioritise the Ministry of Health pane iripo yacho iyoyo,” said Dr Chimedza who is also Member of Parliament for Gutu South.
He said while there was a policy that people who are 65-years and above, children who are under five years and those who cannot afford were supposed to be treated for free, the same were seeking services in hospitals with empty shelves.
“You go into a hospital, you are told there are no drugs, you cannot have an X-ray done, maybe you have a nurse who can write a prescription for you to go and buy. So, it is actually more expensive for you to go and buy. It is actually more expensive for you to be poor because you have to pay for everything that is supposed to be provided by Government,” he said.
Responding to the concerns in Parliament, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa acknowledged that there was need for more funding in health.
He said the newly introduced health levy, which will be five percent of airtime was meant to address exactly that.
“I understand Mr Speaker Sir that the allocation to the Ministry of Health is not 15 percent as required by the Abuja Declaration. It is around percent or so, something still very low,” said Minister Chinamasa.
“I also know the state of hospitals, the conditions, I know that, but I have to take care of this from the three percent of revenue, that we must understand; which becomes an impossible task. Which is why I came up with the levy on airtime, the five cents per every dollar of airtime and I am going to monitor it to see whether it generates enough resources for the Ministry of Health. This is now going to be ring-fenced to purchase drugs and medical equipment.”
In relation to job freezes, Minister Chinamasa said Government needed to agree on prioritising health and education sectors.
“It is no good for my heart when I know that we cannot hire doctors and nurses that we are training very expensively because we are unable to reduce the wage bill to accommodate the necessary personnel. We cannot make decisions on who is a priority and who is not. All we need to do generally Mr Speaker Sir is just to agree as a country to give priority to our health and education,” he said.