By Antonio Mwanza
When the Patriotic Front (PF) came into office in 2011, they found a healthcare system littered with a chronic shortage of health personnel, dilapidated and inadequate health infrastructure, unacceptably high mortality rates, huge budget deficits, lack of medicines and equipment in hospitals coupled with a high disease burden particularly high incidences of Malaria and HIV/AIDS.
Literally, the Patriotic Front inherited a broken down healthcare system that needed broad and ambitious, well-cordinated and well-financed reforms to correct.
Zambia has in the last five years, under the leadership of President Edgar Chagwa Lungu witnessed unprecedented development in the health sector, having achieved huge milestones especially in the areas of infrastructure development, training and recruitment of health personnel, disease control, procurement and disbursement of essential drugs, and in curbing maternal and child deaths.
From 1964 up to the time PF won elections, Zambia had only one University Teaching Hospital popularly known as UTH, in Lusaka. Further, the country had a handful of district hospitals dotted around with very few health posts, forcing many people to walk long distances in search of health services. However, in the last 5 years, President Lungu and the Patriotic Front Government have established four fully fledged tertiary level hospitals after Livingstone and Mwanawasa hospitals were upgraded to Teaching Hospitals, joining Kitwe, Ndola and Lusaka hospitals.
These tertiary level hospitals are fully equipped with modern diagnostic equipment such as computerised tomography machines and renal dialysis units needed to handle complicated cases. Further, Government has installed a modern cardiac catheterisation laboratory at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka aimed at handling cardiology interventional procedures. Furthermore, Government has opened a newly built Specialised Kidney Transplant hospital to tackle the high kidney related disease cases as well as to save millions of Kwachas spent on sending patients abroad annually for specialist kidney treatment.
As if that is not enough, the PF Government has installed advanced ophthalmology equipment at UTH to handle all eye related problems.
With regards to cancer, Government has completed phase II of the Cancer Diseases Hospital to provide complete treatment facilities with 252 bed space capacity to enhance efficient service delivery for cancer patients.
On the other hand, Government has continued to establish regional medical stores hubs with Chipata, Choma, Mansa, Mpika and Luanshya operationalised. In addition, medical stores this year expanded its storage capacity from 7,000 pallets to 32,000 pallets.
And out of the 650 health posts under construction, a total of 362 have been completed and in use, with 59 completed in 2019. A total of 20 mini- hospitals out of the 108 have reached 90 percent completion.
Out of the 36 district hospitals under construction, 7 have been completed in 2019 bringing the total number to 16. Two general hospitals are under construction in Petauke and Chinsali and are at 90 percent and 80 percent completion, respectively.
2. RECRUITMENT OF HEALTH PERSONNEL
When PF came into office, Zambia had a shortage of over 50% of nurses and doctors required to effectively serve the entire country.
In the last 8 years, the PF Government has recruited a total of 21, 159 nurses and doctors as at October, 2019. The Government targets to recruit a total of 30, 000 health workers by 2021.
Further, 250 specialist medical doctors have been trained in various medical fields with an additional 250 completing their training in 2021. Further progress has been made with the opening of the newly built Levy Mwanawasa Medical University, with 3,076 students enrolled in various medical fields. This will close up the gap between patients and health practitioners leading to an efficient service delivery.
3. DISTRIBUTION OF ESSENTIAL DRUGS
In a bid to ensure availability of essential drugs in all health facilities, the PF Government has significantly increased the budgetary allocation with regards to the procurement and storage of drugs. In order to decentralise the distribution of essential drugs, Government has continued establishing regional medical stores hubs with Chipata, Choma, Mansa, Mpika and Luanshya being operationalised.
4. DISEASE CONTROL
Zambia under the Patriotic Front has recorded 60% reduction in Malaria deaths, which was once the country’s number one killer disease. This is because of strategic interventions Government has undertaken which include, among others, the spraying of houses the and distribution of mosquito nets. Last year alone, Government distributed 10.7 million mosquito nets and sprayed 95% of the targeted houses.
Due to the robust response, Government is providing free Anti-Retroviral drugs to 1, 070, 000 out of the 1,200, 000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Zambia.
To ensure that every Zambian, irrespective of one’s economic status has access to healthcare, President Edgar Lungu enacted the National Health Insurance Law to provide for sound financing to the health sector. Under this scheme, the poor, the disabled and the aged will be paying zero kwacha towards their health bill.
Indeed PF and President Lungu have transformed our healthcare system and turned into an example to be pursued by many countries in the southern region.
The Author, Antonio Mwanza is the Deputy Media Director for Zambia’s ruling Patriotic Front (PF)