Hospital defies govt over free TB meds

Hospitals across the country have been refusing to implement the government policy to provide free tuberculosis medication, putting patients at serious risk.

A patient receives her TB medication.
A patient receives her TB medication.

Dr. Charles Sandy, deputy director of AIDS and tuberculosis programmes at the Ministry of Health and Child welfare, said the failure by the government to ‘shepherd’ its policy was to blame.

“Provincial health offices should supervise how the hospitals are doing. Hospitals are taking advantage of the loopholes,” said Doctor Sandy.

He warned the hospitals not to ignore the government policy as it compromised patients’ treatment.

Patients at risk

“The hospitals should stop charging fees on treatment that should be free. Although there are no fines for the transgressors, the government will soon step in to deal with hospitals who continue to disregard policy directives,” he said.

Mission hospitals in remote areas have been criticized for charging tuberculosis patients consultation fees.

“Hospitals such as Mashoko Hospital, St Albert and Silveira Mission have been charging consultation fees on what is supposed to be free treatment,” said Sandy. According to statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, the disease is claiming more than 83 000 people annually, with two thirds of patients not receiving treatment. Zimbabwe’s current infection rate is about 47 000 per year.

Fighting TB

To fight TB, Dr. Charles Sandy said his Health Ministry department was decentralizing care, especially in rural communities, and distributing motorcycles to rural health staff.

Tuberculosis is a major public heath problem. Zimbabwe is ranked 17th on the list of 22 high-burden TB countries in the world. According to the World Health Organization’s Global Tuberculosis Control Report 2009, Zimbabwe had an estimated 71,961 new TB cases in 2007, with an estimated incidence rate of 539 cases per 100,000 population.

The number of new reported TB cases in Zimbabwe declined 2.6 percent between 2006 and 2007.

However, the DOTS (the internationally recommended strategy for TB control) case detection rate declined from 46 percent in 2002 to 27 percent in 2007. The treatment success rate also declined from 71 percent in 2001 to 60 percent in 2006. These declines reflect the deteriorating socio-political context, which has a direct impact on health service delivery in Zimbabwe.

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