Health budget slated as ‘grossly inadequate’

Helen Kadirire

HARARE - Zimbabwe's 2019 health budget remains grossly inadequate to fund the critical needs in the sector, the Community Working Group on Health has said.
CWG executive director Itai Rusike told the Daily News that government continues its over reliance on development partners, which raises the spectre of a health emergency should donor funding be withdrawn.
His remarks come as Finance minister Mthuli Ncube last week announced the 2019 National Budget with $694,5 million or nine percent of the budget allocated to the sector against the 15 percent stipulated under the Abuja Declaration.
“In nominal terms the health budget appropriation has remained largely stagnant at about 9 percent. The percentage is, however, far less when you take into account the effect of inflation,” Rusike said.
“Moreover, the bulk of the resources will be channelled towards financing employment costs at 66 percent leaving very little for capital expenditures. Government must demonstrate its commitment to health by at least meeting the Abuja Declaration benchmark.”
In April 2001, the African Union countries met in Abuja and pledged to set a target of allocating at least 15 percent of their annual budget to improve the health sector and urged donor countries to scale up support. Years later, Zimbabwe has dismally failed to reached this target.
“Development partners are expected to complement 2019 Budget appropriations. The Global Fund for instance is expected to provide US$75 million,” Rusike said.
“The high dependency on external financing is unreliable, unpredictable, unsustainable and highly dependent on the political environment, raising concerns on the sustainability of health financing and the vulnerability of government’s budget should external funding be withdrawn,” Rusike said.
He said government also spends a relatively small share of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care.
The CWGH director highlighted that lower levels of per capita health expenditure indicate that health expenditure in the country is insufficient to guarantee adequate access and quality of services.
Rusike emphasised that the inadequate public financing of health has resulted in an overreliance on out-of-pocket and external financing which is highly unsustainable.
He also said, as usual Treasury allocates more towards Defence and Home Affairs which do not provide any meaningful development to a country.
“Defence and Home Affairs spending continue to account for a predominant share of the total budget crowding out critical sectors such as health and social protection.
In the 2019 National Budget the ministry of Defence was allocated $547 million up from $420,4 million while the ministry of Home Affairs received $518 million up from $435,5 million.
“Countries that are doing well both regionally and internationally are reducing defence and security expenditure to allow for the scaling up of pro-poor expenditure on human and infrastructure development.
“Military and security spending have been shown to retard development by diverting government resources that could be put to better use. In fact development, not military deterrence, is the best strategy for a safer society. Developed countries spend relatively more on health than they spend on defence while developing countries spend relatively more on defence than they spend on health,” he said.