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Something amiss in our health sector, Mr President

Editorials
Nurses

ACKNOWLEDGING the serious crisis in Zimbabwe’s health sector in his weekly column in the State-owned Sunday Mail, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said it was high time his government treated “in-country medical staff retention as a foremost national goal”.

He also said: “More visible and substantive steps will be taken shortly to improve the working conditions for our medical staff.”

It is, however, interesting to note that the health sector has for quite some time now been allocated a sizeable chunk of the national budget, but instead of the situation improving, it has gotten worsen.

For instance, in the 2022 national budget the Health and Child Care ministry was allocated $117,7 billion, representing 14,9% of the country’s total expenditure as government “committed to meet the Abuja target of 15% of the national budget and boosting the country’s resilience through stringent public health and social measures, thereby ensuring that the country achieves the desired health outcomes”.

Sadly, only last month the Vice-President and Health minister was mourning that little of what the ministry was allocated in November last year had actually reached its coffers to help it improve health delivery.

He, for example, revealed that: “The 2022 annual budget for medicines, health facilities was $15 billion and only $5 billion was released.”

Is this not a serious  anomaly that the President should be extremely concerned about because it is a trend that has visited the ministry almost every year, if not, since independence in 1980.

Last year the Health ministry only received a mere 46% of what it was allocated, while other ministries and government departments — including the President’s Office — overshot their allocations by jaw-dropping percentages.

According to 2021 expenditure figures, the Office of the President’s budget utilisation was 112%, Lands and Agriculture ministry (171%), Finance ministry (135%), Defence ministry (114%), Energy ministry (131%) and Zimbabwe Media Commission (116%).

We wonder how and why these ministries and departments overspent their budgets, yet a critical sector such as the Health and Child Care ministry was not even afforded the opportunity to spend half of what is was allocated?

There is definitely something amiss and we recommend that the President takes time to scrutinise the budget allocation system and figure out what is happening to the money that is being allocated but not disbursed to the Health ministry; maybe that way our health crisis could abate.

If the money being allocated to the ministry was being eroded by inflation, it would be understandable, but when more than half of what has been allocated never reaches its intended destination, we believe there is definitely something wrong somewhere and this needs to be addressed quickly because continuing to allocate more to the ministry in the name of meeting the 15% Abuja target when the money is being poured into a seemingly bottomless pit will not help the country attain its health delivery goals, even in the next 100 years.

We implore the President to do more besides just making pledges to improve our health sector when something is definitely wrong in terms of what the Health ministry is being allocated and what it actually receives and spends each year.

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