Government will use the Health Levy, which has so far received $22 million, to supply vital medicines and medical sundries required by health institutions to implement the free user-fee policy for vulnerable groups, Health and Child Care Secretary Dr Gerald Gwinji has said.
The Health Levy is money realised from a 10 percent cellphone levy deducted from every $1 worth of airtime which was introduced by Treasury last year, half of which is channelled towards health.
Responding to questions on Government’s source of funding for a successful free user-fee policy, which has been in existence since 1980 but was not being implemented due to inadequate funding by Government for health institutions, Dr Gwinji said medicines and medical sundries consume the bulk of institutions’ budgets.
He said a mechanism was required to meet costs of medical care for the elderly, children under five years of age and pregnant women following a recent directive by his ministry to all institutions to ensure that patients in these categories did not pay for basic health care.
“The main challenge for implementation has been availing commodities and equipment in the face of low budgetary support. It is true that some mechanism must pay for this service when it is eventually availed as free service to the identified patients,” said Dr Gwinji.
Dr Gwinji said Government, together with its partners, had over the years strategised and built support for the care of children under five years and pregnant women. He said the main issues in addressing these challenges had always been provision of medical commodities.
“The Health Levy, dedicated to commodities like medicines and surgical sundries, has come in to further strengthen this position,” said Dr Gwinji.
He said this year, the health sector also got a better budgetary allocation compared to previous years, which he said would enable the free user-fee policy to become a reality.
“Putting all this together, we feel we have gone over the threshhold where we really can support the categories (the elderly, pregnant women and children under five) with access to service as per Government policy,” he said.
Medicines, vaccines and other consumables worth over $11 million have already been ordered. Dr Gwinji said Government would however continue to advocate for adequate funding for social welfare to enable the health sector to effectively assist other patients outside these categories but were unable to meet the costs of medical care.
Dr Gwinji said going forward, if the current health financing policy was supported, it could create further opportunities for sustainable health care financing through diverse sources of revenue spelt out in the policy. The health financing policy gave birth to cellphone taxation and has other suggestions for mobilisation of domestic financial resources.
Health institutions contacted for comment on the scrapping of the user-fee policy said they had already effected the directive. Harare Central Hospital chief executive officer Mrs Peggy Zvavamwe said: “So far, everything is going on well and we have been assured that we will also get extra allocations to cover costs of these identified patients, who are no longer paying for medical care.”
She concurred with Dr Gwinji that medicines and medical sundries consumed the bulk of their budgets and that should Government meet these costs for the vulnerable groups, the burden would be lighter for health institution in the country. Community Working Group of Health executive director Mr Itai Rusike said while the free user-fee policy had always been in place, its implementation got mixed at various levels of care.
He said in some instances, patients would receive free consultation fees but would have to pay for medicines or other required services. Mr Rusike implored Government to increase funding for health including grants, for the country to effectively implement its policies.