New doctors' advertising policy on the cards

HARARE - Doctors are proposing to government sweeping amendments to the Health Professions Act to pave way for a new policy which allows health practitioners to advertise.

This also comes as the Health Professions Authority (HPA) has come up with an electronic database of 3 500 health institutions and experts easily accessible to the public.

Speaking at the authority’s annual congress yesterday, HPA president Adolf Macheka, a specialist surgeon, said the proposed review of the policy and the relaxation of regulations were part of efforts to promote the ease-of-doing-business in the health sector.

“Advertising in the health sector was a long outstanding issue and Zimbabwe is lagging behind in as far as information to the public is concerned.

“The current legislation does not allow advertising and severely restricts even provision of simple health-related information to the public, hence the need for a review of the legislation in order to embrace technological advances, emerging concerns and changing international best practices,” Macheka said.

He said the position was taken to make health information more accessible to the public than for commercial reasons.

“The HPA took a position to review the advertising policy. This is underpinned by advertising for information to the public rather than advertising for commercial purposes.

“This we have done and I am happy to inform delegates that a new advertising policy is now in place. The new advertising policy ultimately triggers amendment of Section 135 of the Health Professions Act.

“That is the process we are currently doing . . . and after this, both the new advertising policy and the proposed amendments to the Act will be submitted to the minister for approval,” Macheka said.

The previous advertising policy had been criticised for being too strict, with citizens even failing to access health tips and information freely from health experts as well as failing to locate specialists easily.

Meanwhile, the creation of the electronic database for health institutions was yesterday described as a move that could curb the frequent travels by patients to health institutions outside the country in search of specialist services.

In the past years, Zimbabweans, including the first family, have been flocking to foreign lands, with the majority going to India and South Africa to seek medical attention.

“We realised that one of the reasons why there has been so much traffic of patients flocking to other countries for health services was partly because of unavailability of information on the locality of specified health service providers,” Macheka said.

“Thus, this register will assist patients to locate health service providers available in the country by location, town or province.

“Health institutions appearing in the electronic register will be those up-to-date and registered with the authority.

“Currently, these are totalling 3 500, both private and public health institutions.”

The database will be available live on the HPA website from December 1, after being delayed by a technical fault, according to Macheka.

Health minister David Parirenyatwa, in a speech read on his behalf by the ministry’s permanent secretary Gerald Gwinji, said Zimbabwe had been lagging behind in terms of providing crucial health services information to citizens.

“It gives me pride to see that you have not ignored the call to provide the public with an electronic database of health providers in Zimbabwe. This is what is happening in other countries and as Zimbabwe we were lagging behind,” Parirenyatwa said. 

“There are various specialist services available in Zimbabwe but because that information was not readily available to the people, patients were going to other countries to seek such specialist service.

“Well done, these are the kind of initiatives we want, those that benefit the patients at large.”

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