The ministry’s permanent secretary, Brigadier–General Gerald Gwinji, made the revelations when he gave oral evidence on the ministry’s budget bid for 2011 to the parliamentary portfolio committee on health on Tuesday.
“Several studies confirm that Zimbabweans continue to die from easily preventable and treatable conditions like HIV and Aids, tuberculosis, diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, malaria, malnutrition, injuries, hypertension, maternal deaths and mental health disorders,” he said.
On his ministry’s bid, he said: “The ministry was promised only US$100 million by the treasury in the next budget against our bid for US$534 million. This allocation falls short of the Abuja declaration on the funding of health that should take up 15% of the national budget. Currently we are only getting about 7,6% of the national budget and the country is still far from meeting its disease reduction targets.”
Zimbabwe still has an unacceptable high level of HIV prevalence at 13,7% among the 15 to 49 age group. Currently, only 315 000 people are on anti-retroviral therapy countrywide.
The country’s maternal mortality levels are at an unacceptably high level of 725 deaths per every 100 000 births according to a 2007 Maternal and Perinatal Mortality Study.
Gwinji said the country was still not out of the woods on cholera outbreaks.
“Cholera epidemics, exacerbated by a countrywide breakdown of sewerage and water supply and treatment systems, claimed 4 269 lives out of a total of 97 469 cases by end of 2009. We still have sporadic outbreaks and recently there was one in Chiadzwa area, Manicaland province,” he said.
Due to perennial underfunding, the country still relied on the donor community for most of essential medicines found in public health institutions.
“In the years 2009 and 2010, purchase of medicines and medical supplies were mainly supported by partners. About 90% of medicines in the public health sector are from development partners. This support from development partners targets the primary health centres that are clinics and district hospitals. Thus government needs to avail funds to purchase supplies for central and provincial hospitals,” the permanent secretary said.
Gwinji lamented the shortage of qualified and experienced human resources within the ministry due to poor salaries and conditions of service compared to regional countries and Western Europe.
In the same breath, he acknowledged the donor community’s support in giving allowances to the few qualified staff still in the country as retention allowances.
“The conversion of currency from Zimbabwe dollars to United States dollars in 2009 helped stabilise the deteriorating situation. Partners support came in handy in improving government efforts by paying retention allowances,” Gwinji said.
The portfolio committee members were, however, sceptical of the ministry’s policy of expatriate recruitment. They questioned the credentials of some of the foreign doctors engaged due to a higher incidence of misdiagnoses and malpractices reported at centres where they are stationed.
Gwinji defended the recruitment saying it was a stop-gap measure in the face of the massive exodus of qualified and experienced staff at the height of the economic meltdown in early 2000 for greener pastures in the Diaspora. The ministry hired expatriates from Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, China, and North and South Korea.
The portfolio committee resolved to support and advocate for a higher vote to the ministry in the face of the evidence that was produced in defence of the ministry’s 2011 budget bid.