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Zimbabwe Officials, NGOs Lobby for More Health Resources in 2016 Budget

Health Portfolio Committee chair Dr. Peter Mataruse talks to Zimbabwe Medical Association President Dr. Agnes Mahomva after a 2016 budget consultation meeting at parliament building.

Zimbabwe’s health officials and civil society organizations have told lawmakers to lobby Treasury to provide more resources for this critical sector in the 2016 budget.

The country, they said, faces imminent disaster if donors, who are currently providing more than 80 percent of the funds required to run health care, pulled out.

Health and Child Welfare permanent secretary, Dr. Gerald Gwinji, told parliament's health portfolio committee during a 2016 budget consultation meeting Tuesday that he's worried government support for the health sector has been declining over the years.

He said the ministry is worried by low staffing levels in hospitals and clinics, service provision and drug supplies in the country.

Dr. Gwinji said there's little the ministry can do as Treasury has stopped all forms of recruitment.

He said the ministry has not yet received a call circular from the finance ministry for the 2016 budget with just a few weeks before Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa unveiled his budget proposals.

As a result, said Dr. Gwinji, the ministry has not been able to tell the finance ministry its needs.

Dr. Gwinji said he's not expecting much changes in terms of budget allocations given the country's low revenues and depressed economy.

The ministry expects salaries to chew $273 million with $11 million being needed for capital expenditure and $29 million for operations.

The Zimbabwe Association of Church Related Hospitals executive director, Vuyelwa Sidile-Chitimbire, told the committee it's worrying that the government no longer prioritized health care funding.

She also lamented the lack of funding to deal with the time bomb that is presented by non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.

Sidile-Chitimbire said it is imperative that Harare increases funding for the health budget.

Community Working Group on Health director, Itayi Rusike, said the government should do all it can to increase staffing levels in public hospitals which he noted were last reviewed in the 1980s.

Government, he said, must increase the health budget in line with the Abuja Declaration of 2001 which stipulates that African governments must set aside 15 percent of their national budgets to health.

A representative of Natpharm, Rolanda Mlalazi, said he expected the government to avail funding to the state drug procuring company so that they can buy much-needed medicines for public hospitals in 2016.

He said the company currently provided warehousing facilities for drugs purchased by donor as it does not have money to procure drugs for the nation.

Zimbabwe Medical Association president, Dr. Agnes Mahomva, told lawmakers to ensure Treasury adequately funded public health hospitals so that the majority of the population can access health services.

She said private institutions were now overcrowded as service delivery had deteriorated in public health facilities. Besides, private clinics and hospitals are expensive for the ordinary person.

Tuesday's meeting followed one held last week during which stakeholders from civil society organizations in the HIV sector under the auspices of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights set up a committee to lobby treasury and donors to increase funding for the health sector.

They also were worried that most of the funding in the health sector came from donors. Some like Muchanyara Mukamuri of ZNNP+ said it would be disastrous if donors pulled out.

Committee chairperson Dr. Peter Mataruse said his committee would engage Treasury at their pre-budget seminar so some of the stakeholders input can be included in the budget.

This year the Health ministry wanted $303 million for operations but was given only $53 million and with donors providing $147 million to fund the sector.

Chinamasa is expected to present the 2016 budget to Parliament next month.