‘Tobacco tax may help Universal Health Coverage’

By Nhau Mangirazi

Women and Aids Support Network chairperson Tariro Kutadza has implored government to consider taxing the tobacco industry, with proceeds used to fund treatment for lung cancer and tuberculosis (TB) usually caused by smoking.

Kutadza was speaking at a belated Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day roundtable discussion with the media in Harare last week.

The UHC Day commemorations are held annually on December 12.

Kutadza called for inclusive health for every citizen through prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.

“In Zimbabwe, we are pushing to be a middle-income economy by 2030 and it’s a dream that can be achieved, but the reality is that we must close some gaps on how our economy is performing. Our economy is agro-based and tobacco is part of foreign currency earners for the country,” she said.

“Our Parliament must formulate laws so that tobacco tax will add value to our health sector because some diseases are linked to the crop, one way or the other.

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“Tobacco must cater for lung cancer diseases, including tuberculosis, that we are made to believe is treated freely, but how do you access health facilities situated over 200km away? Instead, treatment of TB is no longer free at all. We must be talking with one voice to achieve UHC by 2030 as a nation.”

Kutadza admitted that there was potential to reach the goals of universal health.

“Few countries reach this goal. Rich or poor (we) can make progress. For Zimbabwe, let us focus on realty as tobacco is affecting our environment through tree cutting for curing tobacco and it is a health issue on lung cancer. Should we stand by and fail to get solutions to this when tax can help avert a social health time bomb in our communities?” she said.

Kutadza said attainment of the Abuja Declaration, which stipulates that 15% of the national budget be allocated to health, remains a pipeline dream due to a poorly economy.

“We must be pushing for a better per capita for an individual as our economy is not performing well, hence negatively impacting on health sector that cuts across every household,” she noted, suggesting removal of user fees in public health facilities to achieve health sustainable development goals.

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