Health levy introduction welcome

Charity Ruzvidzo —
The move by Minister of Finance and Economic Development Patrick Chinamasa to introduce a health levy will go a long way in improving the country’s health sector, experts say.
The health sector, which is largely dependent on donor funding, is set to benefit immensely from this domestic funding initiative. Presenting the 2017 National budget, Minister Chinamasa said it was critical that all economically active individuals contribute towards funding health services.
“It is, thus, proposed to introduce a health fund levy of 5 cents for every dollar of airtime and mobile data, under the theme, ‘Talk-Surf and Save a Life,’” said Chinamasa.
He said this will take effect from January 1, 2017. The Minister of Health and Child Care Dr David Parirenyatwa said the levy would equip the health sector with necessary resources to ease access of services for the public.
“The levy will benefit our health sector. It will be used to purchase drugs and medicine. This will assist in increasing the accessibility drugs of in our hospitals,” he said.
Dr Parirenyatwa said Minister Chinamasa was yet to prescribe how the funds are to be managed.
“The money is going to be ring fenced for health facilities only. This means it will be used to improve our health sector. It is not going to be diverted elsewhere. We are yet to hear from the Minister how the funds will be managed and distributed,” he said.
The minister said the health levy did not entail free medication for all Zimbabweans.
“Groups of people that are supposed to get free medication will still get free medication. The health levy will enable easy access of drugs and purchase of equipment in our health sector. Those that can afford to pay for medication must pay,” he said.
The health fund levy, he further said, was the correct way to go in terms of ensuring an improvement in the health sector.
Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Itai Rusike also welcomed the introduction of the levy.
“The health levy is a welcome innovative domestic health financing strategy for our public health delivery services,” he said.
“The Government must be applauded for introducing the 5 percent tax on airtime and mobile data to finance the purchase of drugs and equipment.”
The health lobby activist said this was the only way Government could ensure sustainability of current programmes in the event that external partners pull out or reduce their funding commitments to Zimbabwe.
He said the current situation where external partners fund more than 90 percent of the country’s drug requirements was unsustainable.
Rusike urged the Government to ensure transparency in the use of funds collected under the health levy.
“A strong management and accountability of funds is needed so that they are strictly used for the intended purpose. The success of the fund will also see a strong advocacy for other options for domestic funding of the health ministry to be explored further,” he said.
The health lobbyist said more strategies to raise funds needed to be explored to improve the health sector.
“There must be a further increase on cigarettes and alcohol duties or taxes,” he said.
“Adding a new earmarked tax on products with high sugar content, genetically modified foods, earmarking a certain percentage for third party insurance to fund hospital emergencies will also assist.”
Extending tax concessions for private sector contributions to the health system, Rusike said, would also help including making tax concessions to medical aid societies that have invested in areas outside their core business.
Health and Child Care Parliamentary Portfolio committee chairperson Dr Ruth Labode said the introduction of the health levy would assist in curbing the brain drain in the health sector.
“I personally advocated for the implementation of the health levy. It will help our crippled health sector. You find that we have doctors moving to other countries due to working conditions that are not conducive. The health levy will enable us to stop this,” she said.
The legislator said the health levy was likely to raise an estimated $80 million per year.
“We estimate that $80 million will be raised per year from the health levy, that is depending on how many people buy airtime.
“This should surely bring change and development to our health sector,” she said.
Dr Labode urged the Ministry of Health and Child Care to create an autonomous body to handle the funds under the health levy.
This, she said, would ensure the levy was used for its intended purposes. Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) board member Dr Evans Masitara said they supported any move to improve the ailing health sector.
“We appreciate Government’s initiative to introduce a health levy. However, the Minister of Finance should have increased the 2017 budget allocation for the health sector,” he said.
Dr Masitara reiterated the need for transparency if the health levy was to be a success in boosting the health sector.
“The Ministry of Health must put in place mechanisms that ensure funds are not abused. A panel must be set up to monitor the use of the funds. We need to see improvement, the health sector must change for the better,” he said.
Most people cannot afford to purchase drugs due to the financial constraints. In more developed countries like the United States, the health levy has contributed to healthcare access.
This goes towards assisting the poor and vulnerable groups who cannot afford to pay for health care facilities. — Zimpapers Syndication.