Stepping up access to healthcare

Pretty Chavango, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
CNS Image Library/2013
Health has been recognized as central to human development as both a contributor and an outcome and should be accessed by all. Universal health coverage is vital in the process of development. Yet, distribution of resources in society has seen somewhat unbalanced health coverage, culminating in gaps and unequal access to healthcare, thus disrupting economic growth.

Universal health coverage implies that all people have access without discrimination to nationally determined sets of the essential preventive, curative, and rehabilitative basic health services and essential, safe, affordable, effective and quality medicines, while ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the users to financial hardships.

Zimbabwe held its first ever Universal health coverage commemorations in December 2014, hosted by the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH)-- a network of civic/community based organisations whose aim is to enhance community participation in healthcare, through advocacy networking and capacity development, for the attainment of the right to health and equitable health services in Zimbabwe. There was a call for active participation of both men and women to play a part in the full realisation of health care. CWGH Director, Mr Itai Rusike, spoke on the need for all citizens to have access to health facilities and treatment, urging for achievable, attainable and affordable health for all as a means of social development.

Zimbabwe has however failed to meet most of its health related millennium development goals (MDGs), with maternal health, HIV care and control and infant mortality still needing much attention. Globally, Zimbabwe is among the countries most affected by HIV/AIDS, with more women than men being infected. Privatisation of the health sector has seen private hospitals giving their patients exceptional health care while those who cannot afford the high fees have to opt for public health institutions which offer little or no assistance as they are usually out of stock of medicines. Women are dying due to post partum haemorrhages and other complications after child birth either because they are unable not afford the costly treatment or they live very far from health facilities and end up losing their lives along the way. Although infant and child mortality rates have gradually declined, better immunization and water and sanitation programmes are pivotal to achieving the necessary dramatic reductions. Rural children have a higher mortality rate than their urban counterparts. There is a need to ensure that all are able to easily access healthcare, which is a basic right enshrined in the national constitution.

Community level participation is cited as vital in ensuring universal health coverage, as the people need to be aware of health programmes going on around them. “If communities are not aware of a process then it becomes difficult for them to own and support that process”, said Rusike.

Delivering the key-note address on behalf of Dr David Parirenyatwa, Minister of Health and Child Care, at another conference hosted by CWGH under the banner of “Accessible, Affordable, and Achievable Health For All”, Dr Gibson Mhlanga spoke on the significant progress made by the country in meeting some of the MDGs and the need to keep promoting universal health coverage. “As the Ministry of Health, we do not discriminate towards any group of people. We have come up with programmes to cater for displaced populace, as we do not want the risk of others going unaccounted for and posing a health risk. It is our policy to reach out to all including those loving in informal settings as they are also part of Zimbabwe”, said Dr Mhlanga.

Dr Mhlanga urged for planning on the transition of health systems to universal coverage, while at the same time safe guarding the quality of services to meet the needs of the population. He also called on member states to adopt a multi sectoral approach with a view to reducing health inequities and enabling sustainable development. “The government has a fully loaded agenda that will be realized through a multi- sectoral approach and the concerted efforts of all stakeholders”, he said.

Pretty Chavango, Citizen News Service - CNS,
8 January 2015