By Blessings Mashaya
Government must suspend the health sector recruitment freeze as hospitals are facing serious staffing shortages, the parliamentary portfolio committee on Health and Child Care has said.
In 2011, authorities imposed a recruitment freeze at State health facilities across the country in a bid to deal with an on-going funding crisis.
Presenting a report to the National Assembly on Tuesday during the 2018 budget debate, a member of the committee Prince Dubeko Sibanda said the health sector desperately needs to employ more doctors and nurses.
“We recommend that the staff establishment in the health sector which was last revised in 1982 when the population was only 7 million must be revised.
“The staff establishment of the health sector should be revised so that it matches with the disease burden and also matches the size of the population that we have.
“From the time that it was revised up to now, the population has increased by over 100 percent.
“Therefore, we recommend that the staff establishment of the health sector be revised.
“That being the case, we also recommend that the employment freeze that has been applied by government should not be blanketly applied but it should make some exceptions. It should exempt such sectors as the health sector.
“There is no need for us to freeze employment in the health sector when the health service provider and patient ratio in this country stands at 0,07 percent.
“Therefore, we believe that the freezing of employment in the health sector should be lifted or it should be exempted.”
The country now has a doctor-patient ratio of one per 250 000 inhabitants.
The World Health Organisation recommended standard is one doctor per 600 inhabitants.
Sibanda said the issue of inadequate health professionals was exacerbating poor services at the country’s health institutions, with the health sector marked by an immense workload and workers grappling with massive stress. He said the sector requires more funding from government as well as development partners.
In the $5,1 billion 2018 National Budget, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa allocated a paltry $454 million to the health sector, with expectations that donors would complement. Out of that, $297 million is expected to go to employment costs while $119 million will be for operations and maintenance.
The sector needs at least $1,3 billion. The country is pinning hopes on a $239,6 million support from development partners.
According to analysts expenditure in the country is insufficient to guarantee adequate access and quality of healthcare.
While government in the 2017 budget introduced a Health Fund Levy of five cents for every dollar of mobile airtime and data, under the theme “Talk, Surf and Save a Life”, Sibanda called for “sin-taxes” to fund the health sector.
“We propose as a committee that some more sin taxes should be introduced in order for us to fund the health sector,” he said.
“We have two examples namely; sin tax on alcohol and tobacco.
“We propose that there should be a sin tax that is introduced to fund specifically the health sector.
“We also propose that there be a tax which should be levied on all sugary food stuffs — drinks and food stuffs and that levy should fund the treatment of non-communicable diseases.
“We believe that sugar is a serious contributor towards non-communicable diseases that we have in this country.
“As a result, in order to promote a healthy eating habit in our population, but also to fund our health sector; we should introduce a levy on all sugary food stuffs and drinks.”
He also recommended that the National Pharmaceutical Company (NatPharm) be recapitalised to enable it to purchase drugs in bulk.
“Bulk buying of drugs will help to ensure a stable supply of drugs to public hospitals. Pharmacies also stand to benefit through buying drugs from NatPharm at lower prices.
“We are aware that sometime in October 2017, the cost of buying drugs had gone up by almost 70 percent, such that cost of drugs was no longer reachable to an ordinary person.
“As a result, we recommend the capacitation of NatPharm so that it can be able to supply drugs at a lower cost to public hospitals,” he said.
This comes as government has been struggling to secure employment in other countries for over
4 000 nurses who are stranded after completing their training.
Other health professionals are migrating in search of greener pastures outside the country’s borders.
Poor working conditions, insufficient remuneration, delayed promotions, lack of recognition, and inability to afford the basic necessities of life are all cited as reasons for dissatisfaction.
This has negatively affected the quality of healthcare offered in most of the country’s health institutions. DailyNews