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Strengthening private health service should also be seriously considered

Parirenyatwa Hospital

THE private medical practice is usually the last sector to fall in times of health distress in any country.

Public health institutions can face serious stresses which range from strikes, boycotts, understaffing and even closure.

In spite of the negative perceptions by the general populace, private practitioners always strive to deliver the best medical service to patients.

Many people have often complained about the decapitating charges from private healthcare providers and the unbearable charges have been a hindrance to accessibility by the general populace.

Private medical practitioners have often cried about high operational costs which include unprecedented variable costs and alarmingly high fixed costs.

No one seems to bear with private practitioners who are left to fund their operations. For a business to thrive, funding can arise from both debt and equity, alas, favourable debt is nowhere near in our country as the interest rate is about 200% per annum.

Banks take long to process loans for medical practitioners, thus further frustrating the already-exhausted practitioners. 

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have often shunned private health practitioners in their health-related programmes. It was just this week that we got reports of increased default rates on HIV and Aids drugs.

The drugs have all along been collected from public institutions, centres that some popular patients may shun because of the prevailing stigmatisation.

If a country is to attain sound health status for its citizens, health systems should be oriented towards primary health care as the chief foundation of universal health coverage.

No country can boast of a robust health delivery service when the health fundamentals are not in situ.

In 2007, the World Health Organisation came up with a framework aimed at promoting a common understanding of what is needed for a robust health delivery system.

Health and development are symbiotic in nature, hence the need for clever consideration of the health sector in our country.

If the country is to outcompete other African countries on health service delivery, a strong primary healthcare should be established.

The characteristics of a sound primary healthcare should include meeting people’s health needs throughout their lives, addressing the broader determinants of health through multisectoral policies and action and empowering individuals, families and communities to take charge of their own health.

What should we do as Zimbabwe to remain indisputably strong healthwise? Why are private health practitioners left behind on health planning when they are key in health service delivery?

The biggest brains in medicine are found in the private health sector. The biggest pharmacies, laboratories, radiological units are also found in the private sector.

The country has produced high calibre professors, doctors, nurses, scientists in the medical field and has thus become a training ground for many health professionals.

The unfortunate phenomenon is brain drain and many push factors have been identified, which include political instability, poor quality of life in Zimbabwe, limited access to healthcare and lack of economic opportunities in the country.

Many factors have contributed to these ills and among them are a raft of economic sanctions imposed on the country, rampant corruption that is wiping away millions of dollars, inconsistent policies and capital flight, to mention just but a few.

The country continues to lose thousands of healthcare workers to greener pastures as the year 2021 saw Zimbabwe losing more than 2 100 health workers to other nations, 1 800 of whom being nurses. Lately, there has been unprecedented demand for nurse assistants, especially in the United Kingdom.

It is a pity that many professionals have jostled to nurse aid training centres in order to start practising as simple carers. The year 2022 will go down in memory as that of nurse aids!

The nation should, therefore, address its ills if we are to attain international health practice status. Health financing should be a priority and both private and public health institutions should be included.

Cheaper loans can be availed for the private players while stakeholder engagements are scaled up. It is needless for NGOs to ignore private health players in their endeavour to deliver health in the country.

Because of poor working conditions that persist in the health sector, the probability of having a sound health system remains very low. Brain drain will remain a major challenge, strikes will remain, job boycotts will dominate as morale is at its bottom low among healthcare workers.

The private health practitioners have always come to the rescue of the nation even in times of health distress like during the peak of COVID-19 when public hospitals were overwhelmed.

It is imperative to applaud the private practitioners who are finding it hard to commute to work, send their children to schools or even fend for their families.

If we get our hands together, Zimbabwe will be a better country in few years. Collaboration among all key stakeholders is key to achieving the expected health deliverables. The private practitioners need assistance if private care costs are to be reduced to manageable levels.

  • Johannes Marisa is president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe. He writes here in his personal capacity.


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