Restoring public health sector functionality a top priority

Restoring the functionality of the public health sector is the top priority of the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the ministry’s permanent secretary, Dr Jasper Chimedza, said today (Wednesday).

“The situation whereby the private sector is the functional option is not sustainable, as this will impact negatively on the country’s health indicators,” he told the Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) All Stakeholders Virtual Conference on Health.

In a speech read on his behalf by the ministry’s chief director of policy, planning and monitoring and evaluation, Dr Robert Mudyiradima, Dr Chimedza said the public sector should provide the default setting for healthcare, with the private sector continuing to complement government health services.

He said the health sector was battling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, a struggling public health system and a prolonged industrial action by healthcare workers.

“Government recognises the role of medical aid societies and the private sector in general in the achievement of the country’s global health objectives.

“Despite the turbulent operating environment, medical aid societies have continued to re-invent themselves in response to the needs of the environment, in order to remain relevant. We would like medical aid societies to continue playing their role.

“I want to challenge medical aid societies to structure products for low income earners, so as to increase the number of lives covered. As government we will continue to create and promote a conducive operating environment,” he said.

Pointing out that, while aggressively focusing on the fight against COVID-19, other silent killers in the form of non-communicable diseases should not be forgotten, he urged medical aid societies to strengthen their managed care systems so that they can help their members remain healthy.

He said his ministry would work with AHFoZ to find feasible solutions to some of the issues AHFoZ had raised with the ministry such as the shortfall gap between what healthcare service providers charge and medical aid societies are able to pay and the cost and availability of medicines.

Speaking at the same event, International Federation of Health Plans development manager Nicola Jedrej said that because of COVID-19 the adoption of technology had been accelerated.

Telelmedicine had come to the fore. There were benefits and risks to this. She said she did not believe it could be a one-stop shop for everything. An area in which it was beneficial was that of mental health. A rapid evaluation tool had been developed recently to help decide who, where and how teleconsulting should take place.

She said restrictions due to COVID-19 were likely to last a long time because not everyone was complying with them, particularly young people in the 18 to 35 age group in the United Kingdom. There was a campaign that had been started there called Don’t Kill Granny, to get across the message that young people, by failing to adhere to COVID-19 prevention guidelines and laws were endangering the lives of older people.

She doubted there would be a vaccine ready before the middle of next year. She was taking part in trials of one of the most promising vaccines but it was a 15 month trial.

I am for Bulawayo Fighting COVID19 Trust chairman Busisa Moyo and Solidarity Trust Zimbabwe chairman Nigel Chanakira outlined the work being done by their trusts in mobilising resources to assist in ensuring health facilities were adequately resourced to deal with COVID‑19 patients.

The amount of money raised and resources provided were impressive. Both men were founders of the trusts they chair, which have brought together businesses to assist in the fight against COVID-19.

The Bulawayo trust has assisted in resourcing four facilities in Bulawayo, namely Mpilo Reference Laboratory, where PCR testing is done, Elangeni Isolation Centre, Ekusileni Joshua M. Nkomo Hospital and United Bulawayo Hospitals.

Mr Moyo intimated that the trust would probably continue to help resource the health sector even after COVID-19 had ceased to be a major issue.

The Solidarity Trust has, among other things, mobilised resources both locally and abroad to improve the capacity of the toll-free 2019 number for COVID-19 referrals and enquiries by installing an IVR system, refitted St Anne’s Hospital as a COVID-19 treatment centre, sourced sufficient funds to cover wages for three months for doctors and nurses working at the hospital and started a medical staff fund.

Dr Chanakira said more than 700 donors had provided funds.

“Our donors have been amazing. Members of the public, corporations, international organisations, multinationals,” he said,

He invited medical aid societies to consider collaborating and becoming “friends of St Anne’s”.

Institute of Personnel Management of Zimbabwe president Phillimon Chitagu, who was part of a panel discussion, said there was need to invest in technology so that the systems that had been developed around working from home could continue to work in future.

He said there was need, though, for a means of assessing the productivity of those working from home.

One of the other panellists, Dr Sacrifice Chirisa, a psychiatrist and a survivor himself of COVID-19, said there was need to start building mental resilience in people. He urged that this should be incorporated in wellness programmes.

The Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe ran  a virtual conference  due to the COVID19 restrictions on travel and gathering.

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