The Vice-President and Health Minister of Zimbabwe, Constantino Chiwenga has said senior government officials will no longer be allowed to travel outside the country to seek medical treatment on the account of taxpayers.
Addressing the press on Monday, Chiwenga, 65, said the new directive has been implemented to maintain the national medical bill, New Zimbabwe reports.
“We will not export our patients. We will not make referrals to our patients. It is everybody, ministers. Those who have been going out it is you and me. Is it not it? Altogether but that export bill was too high and that is what we want to do away with,” he said.
“Zimbabwe has a national medical bill that is high. It is, therefore, imperative that the country develops a method of containing the import bill through health care innovations for import substitution.
“This entails inverting the import bill burden into export receipts either in part or most importantly in the whole. This will improve the funding of the national health care system.
“We will have hospitals that will specialise in different treatment services across the country. We are restructuring from the village health worker right up to the top hospital.”
The South African country’s healthcare system has been in a crisis for years with medical officials constantly laying down their tools to protest conditions of service. Access to good healthcare by average Zimbabweans is also a problem, and the situation is laid bare by senior government officials who usually opt to travel overseas on taxpayers’ funds for medical treatment and check-ups.
In 2019, Chiwenga was flown to South Africa for an emergency medical treatment for an undisclosed illness and then to China where he spent four months. He has also flown to the Asian country for check-ups several times this year and has previously been to India for treatment, New Zimbabwe reports.
Former president Robert Mugabe also spent months at a hospital in Singapore before he passed away in 2019.
But Chiwenga has promised to revamp the country’s health system and improve remuneration for striking health workers.
“We have now reviewed salaries and allowances as a way of government commitment to make the national health care system competitive. To this end and the overall increase in health-specific allowances will be effected by the government,” he said.
“We are convinced that salaries and conditions of service are bound to further improve and be more competitive in the short to medium term because of the import substitution measures that the new Ministry of Health and Child Care is now representing. Housing and vehicle loans will also form part of the improved conditions of service.
“As we move forward and face the future with courage, the expectation of government is that the work ethics and work culture within the ministry undergo deep transformation. We expect grievances to be solved amicably through discussion without endangering patients’ lives.
“Never again shall patients’ lives be used as pawns in a game of chess,” he promised.
He also said: “In the clinical services when the country manages to avoid patients’ export or patients’ referral bill, alone through treatment capability, we shall be able to make an equivalent saving. In other words, we can turn the logic around and aim for medical tourism.”