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Hospital Drug Costs To Be Shifted To Zimbabwe Workers, Employers

With Zimbabwe's public hospital system thrown into disarray by striking doctors and nurses, Harare has announced that it will fund hospital pharmaceutical costs through a direct tax on workers rather than through the Ministry of Health budget.

Sources in the National Social Security Authority said Harare is planning to roll out a new national health insurance scheme like the existing National Pension Scheme into which all workers will be obliged to pay. NSSA sources said workers would be required to contribute 5% of their salaries, which employers will be obliged to match.

The Social Security Authority is expected to take charge of purchasing medicines and other equipment need by the public hospital system, leaving the government to cover the salaries of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff, government sources said.

The NSSA board is studying the proposal before it goes to the ministries of labor and health. The cabinet will review the proposal and issue a directive to be posted in April in the official gazette for implementation in July. Sources said no benefits would be paid out for the first three months so that capital could accumulate in the fund.

NSSA Acting Manager Amod Takawira refused to discuss the new fund. Organized labor has already expressed its vehement opposition to the proposal.

Secretary General Wellington Chibebe of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that workers will resist the move, calling the pharmaceutical fund proposal a "national fraud in the making."

NSSA has come under fire from parliament and the ZCTU for a lack of accountability. The Social Security Authority made audited accounts and reports available for 1998-2000 available only in 2004. The agency has had an acting manager for six years.

The NSSA has also come under fire from workers for paying pensioners the miniscule sum of Z$12,900 a month - about US$3 - while 12-month inflation is some 1,180%.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...