HARARE – The new minister of Health and Child Care Obadiah Moyo has been thrown right at the deep end as his appointment last week came at a time when the country is in the throes of a cholera outbreak.
Unlike other ministers who had the luxury of first familiarising themselves with their portfolios as they settle into their new responsibilities, Moyo had to hit the ground running to contain the highly infectious disease, which first broke out in two of Harare’s south-western suburbs on September 1.
The plague has so far claimed the lives of 25 people while more than 2 000 have been infected with the disease since it reared its ugly head about a fortnight ago.
As of September 9, it had spread to Mashonaland Central, Manicaland, Masvingo and the Midlands provinces, compounding the headache for Moyo.
It is not only cholera which the former chief executive officer of Chitungwiza General Hospital must deal with.
Typhoid is also ravaging the southern city of Gweru, with 10 people already having succumbed to the disease.
The rate of HIV/Aids infection is also still very high, with 15 percent of the population infected with the virus.
Once the jewel of southern Africa, Zimbabwe is saddled by a host of other diseases and with its economy in tatters, Moyo has an unenviable task ahead of him.
Itai Rusike, the director of the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) told the Daily News yesterday that Moyo, as the custodian of the Public Health Act, should urgently address the key drivers of cholera and typhoid in order to permanently eliminate the diseases and avoid future recurrence.
This would be critical to prevent further deaths and suffering from such medieval diseases, he said.
Moyo has inherited a healthcare system which is in a deplorable state.
Given how he has enthusiastically started his duties, one gets the sense that he is aware that it is his duty to revitalise the public healthcare system and address social determinants of health to achieve universal healthcare.
Rusike said Zimbabwe needs sustained investments in primary healthcare to revitalise the health system and close the gaps in access to services and address the causes of ill health.
“We implore Moyo to take heed of the World Health Organisation’s six building blocks of an effective health delivery system, whereby the services need to be tailored to the needs of specific population groups,” he said.
“Many public health programmes do not have or are not reaching their health equity goals because they not only lack specific interventions but also fail to reach marginalised populations.”
The CWGH, among other healthy lobby groups, are confident that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration will go well beyond the appending of signatures to declarations, but revisit the various declarations over the past 40 years, and carry forward what worked but critically analyse why Zimbabwe fell short of health goals and thus sent a significant number of Zimbabweans to ill health, disability and early graves, when all these could be avoided.
They are also under no illusion that substantial investments should be made managing basic water and sanitation infrastructure and the country’s health care system.
Jessica Pwiti, the executive director of Amnesty International Zimbabwe, said it was appalling that people were still dying from a preventable disease in the 21st century.
She said given what happened in 2008 when more than 4 000 people lost their lives due to another outbreak of cholera, it boggles the mind that the country is still to put in place the necessary emergency response systems.
“Given what happened in 2008 the government should have been better prepared. But no lessons were learned from the 2008 epidemic and the outbreak and deaths we’re seeing now is symptomatic of a still broken-down sanitation infrastructure and poor sewer management, worsened by shortages of drugs and medical supplies.”
“The newly-elected government of Zimbabwe must learn from its predecessor’s mistakes and take action that stops people dying from preventable diseases. The authorities must invest in proper sanitation and health infrastructure and ensure universal access to health care,” said Pwiti.
Pwiti said under international law, Zimbabwe is obliged to request for assistance if it lacks the resources to address these issues, more so since it has admitted that this is a national disaster which requires an immediate and effective response.