FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube on Wednesday claimed the government’s Covid-19 response plan has resulted in the country meeting the Abuja Declaration health budget targets, but public health experts said questions remain on how this is being integrated into the broader health system.
In April 2001, the African Union member states met in Abuja and pledged to set a target of allocating at least 15% of their annual budget to improve the health sector and urged donor countries to scale up support.
Years of underfunding of the country’s health sector laid bare the poor state of the public health sector when Covid-19 hit the country, as the acute shortages of critical and lifesaving equipment such as ventilators and intensive care beds were exposed.
Ncube, however, claimed the pandemic provided an opportunity for the government to re-commit to increasing healthcare funding by spending 20% of the total budget to health despite presenting a number of challenges.
“So far we have spent about just over ZW$30 billion in that effort. It’s a huge commitment. The Abuja Charter says we must spend at least 15% of our budget on health. Last year, our budget on health was 20% of total expenditure. We have exceeded the Abuja target. We have reached that target. This year again we will exceed it,” Ncube told delegates attending a business conference at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) held under the theme “Embracing the New Normal for Business and Industry: Realities and Opportunities.”
Ncube made his presentation under the topic “he Pandemic and the Economy: Business Recovery Support Initiatives — Fiscal Interventions and Perspectives.
“We have to support the social services sector which is worst affected by the pandemic and of course acquiring more vaccines. Some of the IMF SDRs will be used to acquire more vaccines as well as supporting the health sector to exceed the Abuja targets.”
Zimbabwe recently received its allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDR) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) amounting to US$961 million.
However, Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Itai Rusike said: “So much was expected of the 2021 national budget, given the current Covid-19 pandemic after ZW$54.7 billion was allocated to health.”
Rusike argued that the allocation to health is still heavily tilted towards curative care, which attracted an allocation of ZW$38.1 billion, compared to policy and administration at ZW$10.1 billion and public health at ZW$5.3 billion.
“While this represents good news for a mildly Covid-19-stricken country, 42% of the vote will go towards employment costs (this however, excludes employment costs included in current transfers to grant institutions and other statutory institutions) and 58% will be for non-wage expenditures. Capital expenditure represents 30% of the non-wage expenditures, and 17% of the total Health ministry budget,” Rusike commented.
“The budget is not very clear on how Covid-19 mitigatory measures and initiatives will be integrated into the broader health systems, and how the Covid-19-related assistance both domestic and external, both monetary and in-kind donations, and both government and non-government will be integrated and reported within the budget.”
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