Zimbabwe’s new health minister, Dr. David Parirenyatwa, has commended the just-ended inclusive government for its efforts in improving the health sector since 2009 but says more needs to be done to completely rebuild the ailing but recovering sector.
Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with VOA, Parirenyatwa said he will continue to aggressively pursue the policies championed by his predecessor Dr. Henry Madzorera, adding his ministry will prioritize the improvement of staffing levels in hospitals, fight growing cervical cancer, reducing maternal and child mortality rates and revamping life-saving machinery and equipment in health institutions.
Parirenyatwa, who is back in cabinet after being left out in the cold at the inception of the unity government, says he is ready “to continue the good work that was done by the inclusive government” in the health sector.
The minister said he will soon reverse a previous blanket freeze on new recruitment that was imposed by the ministry of finance during the time of the inclusive government. He did not elaborate on where the government would find money to pay additional workers in the health sector.
“Clearly we must have an unfreezing of posts because the staff establishment in our hospitals has not changed since 1980,” said Parirenyatwa. “We believe that it’s high time now because we now have bigger population, diseases are more intense, particularly HIV so we do need to expand our own establishment.”
Parirenyatwa said his ministry will focus on improving staffing levels in hospitals, adding nurses and doctors in Zimbabwe’s health establishments are extremely overworked, a situation he says could compromise the quality of care provided to patients.
Revamping life-saving equipment such as radiotherapy dialysis machines at central hospitals would be a major priority, the Murehwa North lawmaker said.
This, he said, would greatly improve the quality of specialized care at Zimbabwe’s referral hospital. Parirenyatwa said he would be working with the media to raise funds to aid his efforts to revamp the health sector.
Also of major concern to the minister is the growing number of women in the country being diagnosed with cervical cancer, particularly those living with HIV. He says resources will be spent on improving treatment options and the early detection of cervical cancer.
Many women die of cervical cancer in Zimbabwe annually, many of them in rural areas where knowledge about the disease is low and health facilities ill-equipped to deal with the disease.
Zimbabwe’s maternal mortality rate remains very with as many as eight women estimated to die during child birth, while as many as 100 children die every day.
Dr. Parirenyatwa said this will be another priority of the government in the next five years.
He said under the Health Transition Fund, a program administered by the United Nations Children’s Fund and supported by a number of European Union countries, has done a lot to reduce high maternal and child mortality rates, especially by removing user fees.
Zimbabwe’s health sector used to be counted among the best in Africa but years of economic decline and reduced funding saw the sector collapse under Parirenyatwa’s leadership. The economic collapse was largely blamed on the poor policies of the Zanu PF government, which won the July 31st national elections, crushing former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC formation.
It remains to be seen if Parirenyatwa would be able to maintain and improve on the progress made by the unity government in revamping the ailing health sector.
“I’m optimistic that I can do it,” says Parirenyatwa. “We have to build on to what is already there. The efforts of the inclusive government should really be commended and working together with all our partners, I’m sure things can only continue to improve.”