A nurse’s journey to Zimbabwe’s healthcare transformation Mrs Shylet Sanyanga

Leonard Ncube, [email protected] 

AT a time when many of Zimbabwe’s professionals, both young and old are migrating to western countries seeking greener pastures, there are those who remain steadfastly committed to their callings and are deeply patriotic.

Shylet Sanyanga, the Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Health Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ), is one such individual.

AHFoZ is a pivotal organisation within the private sector health funding jurisdiction boasting a membership of 38 medical aid societies, including four affiliate members. The resolutions which are made during its annual conferences hold immense significance as they directly inform national policy-making.

Sanyanga’s journey began as a nurse, armed with a diploma in general nursing working for a medical aid society in Bulawayo during the late 1990s. Her dedication and passion for healthcare set her on a remarkable path, ultimately leading her to become one of the most influential figures in Zimbabwe’s healthcare landscape.

Sanyanga’s commitment to excellence is evident in her educational achievements. She holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, a Diploma in General Management and has done different leadership courses. With a wealth of knowledge and experience, she has steered AHFoZ as its chief executive officer for 16 years.

Mrs Shylet Sanyanga

I joined AHFoZ in 2002 initially as a registration officer and I was coming from a medical aid society in Bulawayo. So I moved to Harare to join the association and rose through the ranks to deputy executive secretary. The association did not have a CEO by then and the top post was executive secretary. The post had just been changed to CEO when I occupied the position in 2007,” she said.

As the CEO, Sanyanga has helped grow the organisation in terms of its membership, assets and has ensured access to primary healthcare is enhanced. AHFoZ was established in 1969 as Rhodesian Association of Medical Association before changing its name to National Association of Medical Aid Societies at independence. When the market started having other players who were not using the traditional medical aid model, a decision was made for the association to adopt new methods to embrace all stakeholders and then the name was changed to AHFoZ, Sanyanga said. The 39 members collectively cover 1, 7 million citizens through medical aid schemes. Sanyanga said the objective of AHFoZ is to fulfil national health vision. She said she had managed to build both a personal and organisational brand. She has transformed the AHFoZ brand into a strong and trusted organisation through introducing appropriate polices and instilling a culture of professionalism.

“Universal coverage which we call national health gives us more space for interventions. There are a lot of challenges as the business environment in Zimbabwe is not for the fainthearted. The bulk of our income comes from members and when they face difficulties that affects our budgets.

“Without enough resources it is difficult to make strategic decisions and you have to stay on your feet to retain membership. It takes a lot to build a brand that is convincing enough to have people following you and complying,” she said.

Sanyanga said despite the challenges, her success story includes managing to keep members and grow its base over the years, making sure AHFoZ is recognised by Government since it is a self-regulating body.

It was after she became CEO that AHFoZ acquired land to build its own offices and relocated from rented premises in Harare.

She also pioneered the charity work initiative where each year during conference AHFoZ donates to a charity organisation. Rose of Charity Children’s Home in Victoria Falls received groceries worth US$1 000 during last week’s conference.

“I think it was in 2010 when I thought at some point that we can’t just go to a place for a conference and leave nothing besides litter, so we identified a vulnerable community as a way of giving back to the community.” 

Sanyanga was the first non-South African vice chair and chair for Board of Health Funders of Southern Africa (BHF) in 2017 after being unanimously elected uncontested by fellow directors.

BHF is a healthcare funders’ body based in South Africa which covers the Sadc region.

Sanyanga introduced recognition awards for both healthcare providers and funders to promote service offerings in Customer Care, Innovation, Environmental and Social Governance and Corporate Social Responsibility.

In order to encourage innovation among healthcare providers and funders, she also introduced a workshop on healthcare innovation. To increase efficiency in the ecosystem of claims processing, she also started capacity building courses for both providers and funders, including Government institutions.

Ms Shylet Sanyanga

Sanyanga has also built mutual relationships with health colleagues from outside Zimbabwe and in the last few years, health service providers from Botswana, South Africa and other countries have been attending AHFoZ conferences. 

“What we have noticed is that the region learns a lot from Zimbabwe. Outside South Africa, Zimbabwe has always had the best health system. The relationship is mutual as we exchange notes. We are assisting some of them to put systems in place because some of them do not have,” she said.

Sanyanga said the recent conference discussed issues of innovation, climate change and expanding coverage.

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