Govt urged to finance healthcare

HARARE - Providing free health care to patients will only cripple the already cash-strapped councils that often run out of drugs due to limited funding and are behind on paying their workers, local authorities have claimed.

According to a report titled “Cities in Distress Municipal Budgeting and Financial Management Survey”, councils are bleeding their coffers while trying to provide primary healthcare to residents.

The findings from the survey which was conducted in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Masvingo and Mutare come as the Zimbabwe Union of Residents and Ratepayers Association has urged government to increase their budget allocation to councils.

“The continued provision of health services by city councils without government support or any cost-recovery measures is unsustainable.

“In fact, it is draining council resources that could be otherwise used to expand surplus making services. Hence, government is urged to consider providing health care financial support through the health ministry to local authorities depending on the number of clinics a local authority manages,” read part of the survey.

In the report, they argue that according to the Urban Councils Act, local authorities are mandated to have separate service accounts, however, all healthcare accounts are making huge deficits every year.

The survey indicates that because there is very little revenue being collected in the health services, councils are forced to take money from other streams in council to fund provision of healthcare.

The report emphasises that because of the deficits there are implications to that such as jeopardising other council functions.

“While citizens in cities laud government policy of not paying health service fees, they are indirectly paying through other means such as paying for water and rates among others,” the report said.

Provision of primary healthcare has been the preserve of local authorities as they are often cheaper than State-run facilities and private centres.

Last year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa issued a directive that all healthcare facilities should provide free services to children under the age of five years, citizens over 65 years old and pregnant women.

The Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike has called for increased government funding for rural and urban councils in order to strengthen primary healthcare and reduce unnecessary referrals.

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