'Declare health crisis national disaster'

HARARE - Parliament's Health portfolio committee has urged government to declare the health crisis a national disaster to enable mobilisation of donor assistance.

They said the move will curb continued suffering of Zimbabweans.

This come as government pre-allocated $50 million for the Health ministry in the 2017 budget — excluding salaries — against an expectation of $1,2 billion urgently needed to stabilise the sector reeling from a crippling crisis  of medicines.

The meagre allocation, presented by the Health ministry at a pre-budget meeting on Tuesday, raised stakeholders’ fears that if ill-quipped, the sector would be condemning its citizens to “death”.

The fund will see $29 million going towards recurrent spending and $20 million towards capital expenditure.

Further compounding the health sector’s woes is that of 2016’s $28 million recurrent expenditure and $20 million capital spend budget, Treasury has only released $8,7 million and $1,5 million respectively and the year nears its end.

Part of the ripple effects, Members of Parliament were told on Tuesday, are that children under five years, who should be receiving free medical care, are being charged by some government hospitals a bid to stay afloat.

The concerns prompted Parliament’s Health portfolio committee acting chairperson, Prince Dubeko, to enquire why Cabinet had not yet approached President Robert Mugabe to declare the crisis a national disaster.

“When are you going to declare the health sector a national disaster? Have you recommended this to the president?” Dubeko enquired.

Health and Child Care acting secretary Gibson Mhlanga said the allocated amount was “piecemeal” and would not serve to alleviate the sector’s problems.

“It perpetuates the situation where we have shortage of drugs and we are just paying salaries and doing things here and there,” he said.

Mhlanga said hospitals were mainly being supported by user fees and at lower levels by partner funding, a scenario he said was unsustainable.

“As a result of the erratic support, the hospitals have faced continuous medicines and consumables shortage,” he said.

Health ministry Finance director Heather Machamire said the food situation in hospitals was so desperate that they had to approach the Social welfare ministry seeking food aid.

Zimbabwe Association of Church-related Hospitals executive Vuyelwa Sidile-Chitimbe, said the country was facing massive migration of urban citizens to rural and mission hospitals in a bid to access affordable health services.

This was in turn suffocating the meagre resources in those medical centres, he she said.

“Nurses are working on the ground without latex disposable gloves. They are delivering children without gloves,” Sidile-Chitembe said.

She said the system was also putting patients’ health at risk by delaying the distribution of drugs.

“So what does this mean to the health of the patient? It’s the system that’s letting them down…doctors are struggling to deliver no tools of the trade. Patients are complaining. We are killing our own people,” she said.

Government’s chief agent for procurement, storage and distribution of medical supplies, the National Pharmaceutical Company (NatPharm) is also saddled by its own problems, acknowledged its managing director, Flora Sikefu.

Government owes NatPharm $23 million and the debt has reportedly crippled most of its operations.

“Last week we were given $1 million by the ministry of Finance through the ministry of Health because of what has been happening at our health institutions where critical products were not available in central hospitals,” Sikefu said.

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