BY VANESSA GONYE
VICE-PRESIDENT Constantino Chiwenga yesterday admitted that Zimbabwe’s health sector was on its knees at a time when the country is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that a lot needed to be done to revamp it.
Chiwenga said this during a tour of Varichem Pharmaceuticals, where he appreciated the work the company, which manufactures drugs, was doing.
He said inefficiencies in the country’s health sector were exposed by COVID-19, revealing that the problems in the sector had been ignored for a long time.
Zimbabwe’s health sector has been on a downward spiral for years, punctuated by interminable strikes by health professionals, closure of some health facilities, and unavailability of drugs and other medical essentials.
“COVID-19 has exposed the weakness of our health system. There is nothing as bad as going all the time with a begging bowl. You can imagine if you can be an embarrassment in the village, what about a country? We cannot afford to be an embarrassment,” Chiwenga said.
He urged pharmaceutical companies to focus on large-scale production of drugs so as to limit the importation of drugs that can be manufactured locally.
Chiwenga said local drug manufacturing companies should join hands and come up with locally-manufactured drugs whose raw materials are in abundance in the country.
“Let us co-operate with other pharmaceutical organisations so that Zimbabwe rises again. I have taken note of the challenges you mentioned here and the greatest being the influx of cheap imported drugs due to porous borders. The government is putting in place a raft of measures in the pharmaceutical sector, one of them being that government will only buy that which cannot be produced here, the rest we will buy here.
“Efforts to reduce the costs of development will be deepened and everything produced by our local companies will have first priority,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s industrial production of medical drugs has been low and this also contributed to the weak health sector as drug shortages have blighted the country for over a decade.
Earlier on, Chiwenga addressed delegates at the launch of the pharmaceutical manufacturing strategy. He said there was need for competitiveness in the production of drugs while also admitting that COVID-19 was an eye-opener to the health crisis in the country.
“We now have to be competitive and we need to produce more drugs. We have trees all over and grass, we must produce drugs. We must utilise those God-given brains. COVID-19 was a great teacher, we should now be prepared,” he said.
Chiwenga was appointed the Health minister in August 2020, replacing Obadiah Moyo, who was arrested in June on corruption allegations.
In 2018, Chiwenga fired 16 000 striking nurses, saying the industrial action was politically-motivated. He said they could be easily replaced by army personnel, but later reinstated.
In 2019, Chiwenga again courted controversy when he announced that “a doctor is a skilled technician or labourer whose knowledge fits him for an occupation, but not a profession”.
In November 2020, Chiwenga also placed 1 280 nurses on disciplinary action for failure to comply with government’s ban of the flexi hours working arrangement.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido) country representative Tichaona Mushayavanhu, who also toured the pharmaceutical company with Chiwenga, hailed the success of the pharma strategy which is one of the 10 projects developed with assistance from UNIDO under the Zimbabwe/UNIDO CP4 ISID 2017-2021.