WOMEN were very outspoken during the 2018 pre-budget consultations by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Finance, rightly pointing out that government’s budget priorities were upside down, favouring the Defence ministry with the largest share of the cake, at the expense of health and education sectors.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
In Harare, most women who contributed during the Parliament public hearings said the biggest chunk of the 2018 budget should go to the Health ministry and ensure issues such as drug shortages and the suffering of women when they access maternal health services is reduced.
While the calls were made before the Cabinet reshuffle when Patrick Chinamasa was still Finance minister, his successor, Ignatius Chombo, will now have to deal with the sticky issues.
The women implored the Finance minister to make cancer treatment free because it is very expensive; adding there is need for budgetary allocations in 2018 to ensure cancer treatment equipment is purchased and deployed to different hospitals across the country.
Melody Mtetwa of Harare said the situation at Zimbabwe’s public hospitals was so dire that the Health ministry should be allocated a good amount of the 2018 national budget to help fix hospital infrastructure, equipment and ensure drugs are available for all patients.
“You find that public hospitals are not even able to administer yellow fever vaccines for Zimbabweans travelling to countries such as Tanzania. The vaccine costs $43 at private hospitals, and at public hospitals like Parirenyatwa it costs $12, but in order for them to vaccinate someone, they will tell you to get 10 other people. It means a traveller has to wait for days until there are 10 people who need that vaccine and it does not make any sense, yet yellow fever is dangerous and kills all body organs,” Mtetwa said.
“People like the elderly can be treated freely at hospitals, but are given prescriptions to buy the required drugs yet they do not have money and their lives are endangered. People end up using pain killers for all ailments, and they are dying due to lack of drugs. The budget must prioritise hospitals because there is no equipment, and at Parirenyatwa Hospital, the kidney dialysis machine was introduced there after the late First Lady Sally Mugabe suffered from kidney ailment.”
Elizabeth Chinyanga said maternal health must be prioritised because women and babies were dying at hospitals while giving birth.
“The Finance minister must ensure that maternal health is prioritised in his 2018 budget statement. There are a lot of things that women are asked to pay for when they book at maternity clinics or hospitals and so maternal fees must be scrapped,” Chinyanga said.
Other women who contributed during the consultations said some hospitals do not even offer them food when they check-in at maternal wards, adding that it is imperative for the minister to ensure there is improvement in the health sector by allocating more funds.
Women in Politics Support Unit executive director, Sakhile Sifelani-Ngoma said the 2018 budget must allocate funds towards ensuring that women get free sanitary wear.
“Girls do not choose to menstruate and the budget must ensure that we begin to see allocations of free sanitary wear to school children. There is a high school dropout rate of girls, and if the school feeding programmes managed to keep children at school, then the provision of free sanitary wear can keep girls in schools,” she said.
Sifelani-Ngoma said if the anti-gender-based violence fight gets budgetary support, it will assist in providing services such as the adult rape clinics.
“Currently the services dealing with rape that are provided at Parirenyatwa are supported by a non-governmental organisation.
There has been long-term failure by the State to fund public institutions, so that they deal with rape issues. We need money for those services, so that people around the country can be assisted,” she said.
Monica Mafunde said the situation at hospitals is so appalling that patients have to fork out $160 to buy a pint of blood. She said there is need for budgetary allocation towards blood transfusion services so that they become free.
“What appals me is that I am a blood donor and whenever I donate blood, I am given a soft drink and a packet of biscuits. However, when my relative was involved in an accident and was injured we were asked to pay $160 for a pint of blood. The government must allocate money so that those blood transfusion services are accessed for free by Zimbabweans,” she said.
Patricia Roti said civil servants, particularly nurses and doctors, must be paid well by the government, because their measly salaries were causing them to ill-treat patients, particularly women in maternity wards.
“Women are charged $300 for a caesarian section, while giving birth and unless that amount is paid they are not served, and this has caused unnecessary deaths. The nurses and doctors are sometimes negligent resulting in unnecessary deaths. They need to be well paid so that the way they treat patients improves,” she said.
MDC-T vice-president Thokozani Khupe, who is an advocate for women’s rights and is a member of the Finance Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, said maternity issues are very sensitive.
“Giving birth is a national duty and, therefore, women should not be punished for it. In other countries women are actually paid money for giving birth because that child can be a future president, doctor, lawyer or engineer, and yet in our country women are being punished for failing to pay maternity user fees,” she said, adding that maternal health should be allocated more money so that user fees are scrapped.
Zanu PF proportional representation MP who sits in the Finance Portfolio Committee, Melody Dziva, said even in rural areas where the committee went to gather views on the 2018 budget, women were outspoken and clear that they want the minister to prioritise health, education and social services in the 2018 budget.
Other issues raised by women include climate change, where most of them said there is need for budgetary allocation towards its mitigation as women suffered most due to issues like floods, environmental degradation and pollution, and water and sanitation issues.
Women even demanded that some money should be allocated towards the construction of dams, as well as towards rail and road infrastructure. Others demanded that transport systems must be modernised so that we have trams to transport people at city centres.
They said this year should mark an end to the allocation of the bulk of the budget money to the Defence ministry as the country is not at war.