Desperate Zimbos Turn To Crowd Funding For Healthcare Financing

IN a country where medical aid coverage is less than 10 percent, ordinary Zimbabweans who can’t afford medical aid cover and health insurance have found solace in crowd funding initiatives for critical surgeries and treatment for complicated ailments.

By Michael Gwarisa

According to the Association of Healthcare Funders Zimbabwe (AHFoZ), medical aid coverage has dropped from a high of 10 percent in 2018 to the current  9 percent, making it untenable for majority of Zimbabweans whose life savings and hard earned cash has turned into manure since August 2018 at the back of runway inflation and lack of disposable income.

Healthcare costs have also been on a crazy upward trend with the latest blow being the reinstatement of hospital and maternity user fees in all public health institutions. Bearing the biggest burden are those suffering from life threatening conditions which require surgery and or special medication and procedures.

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) raised not less than US$29 million through a crowd funding initiative at the height of the 2018 Cholera outbreak. Since then, most Zimbabweans have been assisted through crowd funding initiatives whereby citizens and well-wishers create platforms for raising funds for ailing friends and family.

Various Online Fund raising platforms have been set up by Zimbabweans  these include the GoFundMe among others and these have helped hundreds of people get healthcare related and other needs.

Crowd funding has come through to bridge the health financing gap between the haves and have nots  and has over the past few years assisted so many low income earners in getting treatment and surgery even abroad. However, its sustainability and longevity rests heavily on a stable macroeconomic environment and Citizens’ ability to sponsor such initiatives.

Health Economist, Dr Prosper Chitambara applauded crowd funding initiatives for healthcare but maintained that government should create a long lasting and sustainable health financing arrangement for citizens.

It’s a good way to raise health funding for low income earners and those that may be uninsured. However, we still need strong public funding in healthcare. Crowd funding must provide a supplementary role,” said Dr Chitambara.

Dr Chitambara added that health financing by government continuous to be uninspiring given that all the national budgets including the 2020 budget have failed to address the critical issues and falls far short of the Abuja Declaration target of 15%.

“It is inconceivable and unconscionable that in a country which has faced a cholera epidemic, severe typhoid outbreaks amongst other serious and fatal environmental diseases we continue to give to little priority to preventive health services. The ability of the health sector to deliver and organize the health services needed to manage the increasing disease burden faced in Zimbabwe depends on a reasonable per capita allocation to health.

“The decline in real terms of public health funding over the years has come in the wake of Government’s implementation of the economic reform programme which endeavors to reduce Government expenditure. In light of this, the Ministry of Health needs to put in place an efficient system in drug procurement, stock management, distribution etc. to ensure that drugs are available where they are needed.”

Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) Executive Director, Mr Itai Rusike however said the existence of crowd funding initiatives to fund healthcare was a sign that government has failed to provide a basic human right (health) for its people.

“The various crowdfunding initiatives to fund and support various health challenges in   the country is a sign of failure by the government to provide health care services to its people as provided for under section 76 of new Zimbabwe constitution that provides for the right to health.

“Crowd funding is a short gap measure as it is not sustainable and there’s no mechanism for transparency and accountability with a high a  risk of people being swindled of their hard earned money by criminal elements and unscrupulous characters,” said Mr Rusike.

In 2019, majority of medical aid providers approached AHFoZ  to submit requests for additional or new increases to the current tariffs for various reasons. The increases range from 50% to 400%. Healthcare providers have argued that operating in the current environment has become difficult, forcing them to increase tariffs or risk going under.

The cost of healthcare in Zimbabwe remains one of the highest in the region and yet the facilities are substandard, with most public hospitals literally falling to pieces. Over the years, soaring health costs have denied many people access to medical care. Most private health institutions are now demanding payment in hard currency or the parallel market equivalent in bond notes or RTGS payments. This has resulted in patients on medical aid now paying huge shortfalls.

Zimbabwe needs about $400 million per year to meet its drug requirements for both public hospitals and the rest of the health services sector. Key players in the pharmaceutical industry like CAPS Holdings, which used to contribute up to 75% of local healthcare products, have gone under.

Meanwhile, the ministry of Health and Child and Child Care (MoHCC)) says it is currently working on crafting a National Health Insurance scheme for citizens in an effort to make universal health coverage a reality.