Govt urged to slash public hospitals' consultation fees

HARARE - Zimbabwe should redouble its efforts to slash the prohibitive costs of treatment at public hospitals to achieve greater access to health care, a top Swaziland official has said.

Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane, the Swaziland Health minister, said this on Thursday after touring NatPharm, Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and National Blood Service Zimbabwe.

Ndlela-Simelane said her brief interaction with Zimbabwe’s public health system revealed prohibitive healthcare costs.

“I have noticed that access to health services is still a challenge,” she said.

“In Swaziland, in-patients, for example, pay $0,50 but here it is $20. I’m seeing people don’t have enough money and it’s difficult.

“As a country, it is important that there be a fund which will enable government to refer patients requiring say specialist services but don’t have the money. In my country, we actually have two funds, one for the poor and another for civil servants.”

About 90 percent of Zimbabweans are not on medical insurance, leaving the majority relying on the creaky public health system.

Many vulnerable patients are turned away from the public institutions that demand cash up front.

Rights lawyers have been roped in to help secure the release of patients detained at public hospitals over non-payment of outstanding dues.

Ndlela-Simelane said fulfilling the expectations of the Abuja Declaration, which require that governments allocate 15 percent of national budgets to the health sector, will go a long way in addressing the problem.

“We know there are the commitments we made under the declaration,” she said.

“Those, if met, will help significantly improve access to services. As a country, we set-aside 12,3 percent of the budget to health for 2013-2014 but still more needs to be done.”

The Swazi minister is in Zimbabwe for the 20th anniversary of the Southern Africa HIV and Aids Information Dissemination Service that was held yesterday.

“It helps balance access and infrastructure quality,” she said.

“For our country, half-a-dollar allows more people to access but has compromised on some services like infrastructure.”

Zimbabwe’s budgetary allocations have been regressing.

In 2014, the ministry of Health was allocated $337 million but the vote has dropped to $301 million in the 2015 budget.

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