EDITORIAL COMMENT: Talk, surf and save a life

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Our country won plaudits in 2000 when the Government introduced the Zimbabwe National Aids Trust Fund, more commonly known as the Aids Levy.  

The levy entails a three percent income tax on salaries of individuals in formal employment and three percent tax on profits of employers and trusts.

The fund has been hailed globally as an innovative strategy that helped the country procure anti-retroviral drugs at a time when global funders were cutting their spending on us while spending huge sums of money assisting other countries in dealing with the Aids epidemic.

While international donor support to fight HIV and Aids has markedly increased since the Aids Levy was mooted and introduced, it is still playing a role.

Collections under the levy have been rising over the years and in 2014 about $37 million was raised and spent on activities to respond to the disease.

Experts from all over the world have written glowing papers on the innovative domestic funding strategy and many African countries have adopted it. The UN has also praised the Aids tax.

While Zimbabweans in their individual capacities, their employers and their Government are contributing financially to lessen the Aids burden, it is concerning that 98 percent of all medical drugs in public health facilities across the country are supported by donors.

This is a serious security risk, one that must be seriously addressed and urgently. If donors decide to hold back their assistance, what will become of us?

The Government, aware of this danger of relying on the benevolence of donors and probably drawing from the success of the Aids Levy, recently came up with a new funding strategy that will reduce that reliance on foreign donations for other medicines apart from anti-retroviral drugs.

The Health Levy came into effect in February after Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa proposed its establishment in his 2017 national budget in December last year. Five cents of every dollar spent on mobile phone airtime and data is going into the Talk, Surf and Save a Life initiative, as the minister has christened the Health Levy.

Around $4 million is being raised monthly and deposited into an account specifically created for the cellphone levy and is being channelled to Natpharm, the national medical drug procurement authority.  For now, said the Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr David Parirenyatwa recently, the money is being used to buy drugs but with time it can be spent on other health care needs.

The Health Levy has potential to be very successful considering that our people spend large sums of money on mobile phone airtime and data. There is one area where much of our spending is going as with beer, digital satellite subscriptions and so on.

Official figures indicate that we spent around $550 million on airtime between June 2013 and June 2014. Theoretically, therefore, about $27,5 million can be collected per annum for the Health Levy. This is a modest contribution towards restocking Natpharm, but one which, at the same time is commendable.

It is a demonstration that, yes, donations are welcome and must continue flowing in, but Zimbabweans have the will to promote and fund their own health care needs.

At the same time, donors should be pleased to be helping people who are prepared to help themselves and are actively doing so not simply waiting for assistance.

Furthermore, the levy is important in addressing the security risks related to over-reliance on donors who, in this case, are foreign.

Anything can happen in this world.  Political and logistical challenges can occur, hampering the availability of medical drugs in our country.

Western sanctions have taught us the possible dangers that can arise due to donor dependence. By saying this, we are not in any way understating the help we are getting from abroad.

Additionally we know that $27,5 million in Health Levy collections per year cannot cover the 98 percent that donations are accounting for in procurement of medical drugs that we use.  What we are just pointing out is the fact it is dangerous for that to continue.

The levy is helpful, too, in that it gives us Zimbabweans much pride to be contributing to funding the procurement of essential items for ourselves.

Nothing gives a people more pride than being self-sufficient in meeting their needs, among them food, clothing and access to health.

We are therefore, proud to talk, surf and save our own lives!

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