Pamela Shumba, Senior Reporter
PRESIDENT Mugabe yesterday urged African countries to come up with innovative ways of financing the health sector to respond to the disease burden facing the continent.
Addressing delegates attending the 67th World Health Organisation (WHO) regional committee for Africa conference in Victoria Falls, President Mugabe said it was important for African countries to strengthen their health systems.
Zimbabwe won the bid to host the six-day WHO conference, which has brought together health ministers from 47 countries.
WHO director general, Dr Tredos Ghebreyesus and WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti are also attending the regional conference.
The regional committee is the governing body of WHO in the African region which formulates policies and develops programmes in support of national, regional and global strategies for universal access to health.
President Mugabe told delegates that there was a need to come up with ways of financing the health sector efficiently and sustainably.
He said Africa is facing the double burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases.
“The evidence before us speaks to Africa experiencing the largest increase in morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious diseases, cancer and diabetes. We must therefore as Africa provide the solutions across these sectors do better health outcomes. As leaders it is our duty to foster this broader approach and push the health sector to its deserved prominence on our agendas in our sub regional groupings,” said President Mugabe.
He said it was unfortunate that direct investment in the health sector in developing countries by partners was now severely constrained at a time when the continent needs to be more focused.
The President said Africa needs to make concerted efforts to address matters like the increased burden of HIV in adolescents and women.
“It is good to host the regional committee here in Zimbabwe, having hosted the regional office in the past, nearly eight years before its relocation to Brazzaville, Congo. We value the coming together of the Ministers of Health from the African region to put their heads together and collectively interrogate the various health issues that affect our populations. Indeed, these issues are many and impact heavily on all aspects of our life. The adage ‘life is health’ and ‘health is wealth’ holds true and we have all witnessed the interplay between health and development,” the President said.
Although African countries have all invested in human resources for health production, he said, it was sad that experienced people are being lost to the developing world.
“Let’s put our heads together to find solutions and strengthen our health systems so that we’re able to respond to the challenges we’re facing today. The agenda on health must be more prominent on our agendas in our sub regional groupings.
“Our governments are committed to investing at least 15 percent of their national budgets into the health sector. A few have managed to consistently meet this commitment in the context of many competing priorities,” said President Mugabe.
He said Zimbabwe was proud to have come up with a National Aids Trust Fund to help finance the country’s response to the HIV epidemic.
“This fund has also formed the nucleus for addressing the increasing cancer burden in the country. We have also, beginning of this financial year set aside half of a 10 percent levy that we charge on mobile airtime and data usage for use on procuring critical pharmaceutical and other commodities for our hospitals, outside the main budget provision,” said President Mugabe.
The Minister of Health and Child Care Dr David Parirenyatwa said he was happy that Zimbabwe was hosting the WHO regional committee conference.
He said it took a lot of hard work to win the bid, which was submitted two years ago.
Dr Ghebreyesus said the WHO was in the process of coming up with measures to improve health system in the world.
He urged African countries to be united for the noble cause.
Dr Moeti said health is an integral part for building resilience in countries.
“There’s need to strengthen health systems which should be translated into action. Financing is fundamental to funding health programmes and WHO is committed to stepping up efforts of member states in fighting tuberculosis as well as using ICT in developing health systems to reduce equity gaps in eradication of polio,” said Dr Moeti.