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Conflict of interest in health ministry

PAUL Chimedza is a medical doctor, with a thriving practice in Avondale. He is the Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care. His boss is David Parirenyatwa, also a medical practitioner.

Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Paul Chimedza
Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Paul Chimedza

Both men preside over a ministry that has oversight on medical aid societies, with whom they are currently in dispute over a new tariff medical aid societies allege will result in bankruptcies.

The background to this is that when private doctors and medical aid societies failed to reach an agreeable tariff, government was forced to step in to set a new fee for consultation by patients when they visit doctors or medical facilities. Consultation fee for private doctors — the general practitioners — was pegged by government at US$35, up from US$20.

For an economy grappling with a liquidity crunch that has affected both business and individuals, this was largely perceived as unreasonable, largely by the public most of whom have no medical aid. But medical aid societies were equally concerned, arguing that the new tariff was unsustainable and could render many medical aid societies bankrupt.

At least 1,6 million Zimbabweans depend on medical aid, a form of insurance that protects individuals financially should they be in need of medical or health care.

The majority of Zimbabweans, due to an unbearable economic crisis, have long ceased to have medical aid cover, and now depend on cash for medical treatment or support. The truth is that most people not on medical aid end up dying at home because they do not have the cash to pay for consultation, even in public hospitals.

Chimedza, who has been the most vocal against the position taken by medical aid societies over the new tariffs, gave what sounded like a very plausible reason for government’s decision to increase the consultation fees.

He told Parliament that government had taken into account the position by the medical doctors on fee increases, as well as that of medical aid societies. On the one hand, doctors wanted consultation fees increased to between US$80 and US$90.

Medical aid societies insisted they could not pay anything higher than the then prevail rate of US$20. Chimedza insists they had “rationalised these figures” and emerged with the new tariffs.

He said their rationale was to keep doctors in Zimbabwe by allowing them to remain in practice in the country.

“If we kill that, we have no professionals in this country. Therefore, we have a lot to balance; it is not just raising fees. It is maintaining the professionals that we have,” he said.

But Chimedza and Parirenyatwa are now accused of conflict of interest in this issue. The Deputy Minister has dismissed offhand concerns by medical aid societies, and accuses their executives of being on the gravy train.

So far, this is based on hearsay, but conflict of interest in the adjudication of this matter is fact, and it would be indeed sad if they are using their positions to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacities. Financial Gazette Editorial