HARARE – Thousands of struggling workers are at risk of failing to access medical services after the Association of Health Care Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) yesterday warned that it will soon start charging subscriptions in United States dollars.
AHFoZ represents all medical aid societies in Zimbabwe.
This comes in the wake of sharp hikes in prices of drugs and medical services by hospitals following the mayhem caused by government’s decision to introduce unpopular austerity measures in its bid to revive the sinking economy.
AHFoZ’s warning comes also as some doctors have started charging their services in US dollars in response to the soaring costs blamed on the rising inflation.
“Some medical practitioners and hospitals were reported to be demanding from medical aid members US dollars in cash as co-payments for healthcare services in order to preserve value.
“It is suggested that medical aid societies consider asking employers to pay their subscriptions in US dollars.
“AHFoZ urges its members to monitor the situation with a view to approaching employer organisations to request that medical aid subscriptions be paid in US dollars, so that service providers may be paid in US dollars and their members are able to access healthcare services without inconvenience,” AHFoZ said in a statement.
The healthcare funders’ body also bemoaned the exclusion of medical products from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) list of prioritised items to be imported under its $500 million financial package announced early this week.
“AHFoZ urges the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to urgently allocate foreign currency for the purchase of pharmaceutical supplies and other healthcare consumables.
“There are reports of severe shortages of essential drugs and of some pharmacies charging for medication in United States dollars,” AHFoZ said.
“If those with chronic conditions are unable to access their prescribed medication this would compromise their quality of life and result in those whose conditions had previously been well managed starting to suffer complications,” it added.
This comes after RBZ governor John Mangudya, in a press statement, said that the funds would be used for procurement of other essential commodities such as fuel, electricity, wheat and raw materials, thus excluding the health sector.
“As advised, the purpose of the facilities is to fund the procurement of essential commodities including fuel, electricity, wheat and raw materials for manufacturing of cooking oil, packaging and other basic commodities,” the statement by the RBZ said.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said the exclusion of the health sector was worrisome.
“The lack of prioritisation of health by the central bank is worrisome, and an affront to the attainment of the country’s health targets,” ZADHR said.
ZADHR said people suffering from chronic illnesses were failing to access drugs and health services; hence there was a request for foreign currency to aid the situation.
“People with chronic diseases are failing to access drugs for hypertension, diabetes, dialysis and chemotherapy as pharmaceuticals have requested foreign currency,” ZADHR said.
This comes as Zimbabwe is just recovering from its second major cholera outbreak in a decade.
ZADHR said it holds RBZ in violation of the “right to health” which is a prerogative in the Constitution.
“We hold the central bank complicit in this gross violation of the right to health as enshrined in section 76 of the Constitution,” said ZADHR.
At the weekend, the pharmaceutical industry warned of a catastrophic health crisis if the government failed to release emergency funds for the importation of life-prolonging drugs.
Many local pharmacies have started selling medication in hard cash and US dollars only.
Private hospitals also announced at the weekend that they had hiked their service fees, in a move which affects thousands of patients on medical aid who are now expected to incur massive shortfalls as a result.
Zimbabwe needs about $400 million per year to meet its drug requirements for both public hospitals and the rest of the health services sector.
At the peak of its economy, Zimbabwe imported drugs minimally due to the then healthy state of its pharmaceutical industry, which was dominated by CAPS Holdings.
CAPS Holdings accounted for 75 percent of the local healthcare products market and was involved in the manufacture, wholesale, distribution and retail of pharmaceutical, consumer and veterinary products.