Editorial Comment: Private healthcare a necessary evil?

Editorial Comment

Empirical evidence presented over the years has indicated that the exorbitant fees charged by the private sector-run health facilities limit the poor’s access to and use of healthcare facilities, thereby undermining healthcare consumption affordability, access and equity.

While it is evident that the public healthcare system is semi-comatose, the option of private care, however, is out of reach for many people surviving on average salaries which are paid in RTGS currency.

Although the initial idea for private healthcare was to give people diverse options for services, this is no longer about choosing the best because many desperate people find themselves in consulting rooms of these healthcare givers who charge in United States dollars and other acceptable foreign currencies. The bond equivalent is largely too astronomical to even contemplate because of the terrible state of the public health system. The Public health facilities can no longer provide even the most basic of medical attention, forcing people to go the expensive route of private healthcare.

But the prohibitive amounts being charged in private clinics and medical facilities fly in the face of the Hippocratic Oath which guides the medical profession.

The oath, historically, was taken by physicians. It is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. In its original form, it requires a new physician to swear, by a number of healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards. The oath is the earliest expression of medical ethics in the western world, establishing several principles of medical ethics which remain of paramount significance today.

But sadly, the fixation with making more money has crept in like a vile cancer, taking away the very essence of the oath.

This defeats the whole idea that the presence of private practice was initially supposed to improve health delivery in the country by setting better standards, which, it was hoped, would be emulated by the public sector. It seems many in the private healthcare sector are in it for the kill, but what a bloody trail they are leaving!

Specialist doctors are the worst. Charging amorous amounts ranging over US$100 for just a five-minute consultation. Surely this has ceased to be about balancing costs.

While proponents of the private sector argue that it improves access and equity, and more efficient delivery practices by bringing in the much needed resources, the sector is simply ripping people off.

That could explain why, in every suburb, there is now a 24-hour facility. The services for many of these mushrooming facilities leave a lot to be desired. Working in cohorts with private laboratories and other referral centres, they are making a killing by subjecting patients to all sorts of tests, just so they could keep each other in business.

The only solution to this sad scenario is for government and the responsible ministry to find sustainable means of funding the health sector and ease-up on donor funds. Over reliance on donor funds stifles initiative and when the funds dry-up, we are left in the muck that we are in right now.

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