The shortage of ambulances has crippled the delivery of healthcare services in Harare, where sick people have to endure many hours of waiting before an ambulance is available to transport them to hospital.
On Tuesday, we carried a story in which the Director of Health Prosper Chonzi confirmed the city had only three reliable ambulances and out of those three, just one was available last week to serve more than 50 primary health facilities.
Ironically, the municipality has been making a killing in revenue, clamping and towing away vehicles in line with statutory instrument 104 of 2005 (Clamping and Tow Away) By-laws.
What is surprising is that the council finds money to buy tow away vehicles but cannot buy life-saving ambulances!
We do not subscribe to the council’s way of doing business.
Although they have just one ambulance, council has set aside a substantial amount of money to buy top-of-the-range cars for its officials.
Sadly, this revelation comes at a time when the local authority’s ambulance fleet has also been grounded due to a shortage of fuel and spares, paralysing the provision of emergency services in the city.
What makes this shortage of ambulances in the capital a serious matter is the painful fact that the poor have either been forced to hire private vehicles or use public transport to ferry sick relatives to hospital.
This has undoubtedly led to unnecessary loss of many lives because in most cases, people that need ambulances require emergency specialist attention from trained ambulance medics.
What is even more disturbing is the revelation by Chonzi during a consultative meeting with mayors from around the country and attended by Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe that the city treasurer is not sensitive to the people’s plight.
“We are against remitting fees to treasury because at the end of the day, health would be competing with other departments for the money come budget time.
We propose that the health department keeps its revenues for its own use,” Chonzi said.
Harare council charges $50 for maternity fees, but due to the critical shortage of ambulances, council has had to hire private ambulance services at exorbitant fees, yet it claims it cannot afford to put together a reliable fleet of ambulances.
This is clearly a question of misplaced priorities.
Why should the poor subsidise the rich in this case?
Why should they be made to pay a fortune, for a service council is expected to provide?
While government is considering making maternity services free at all hospitals beginning next year, it must impress upon local authorities to prioritise healthcare by ensuring basics are in place, such as drugs and ambulance services among others.