'Increase health care access in rural areas'

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By Charity Ruzvidzo

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) has implored the government to increase access to health care services to the rural population which largely remains side-lined.

Doctors, who resumed work last week after a month-long strike citing poor working conditions and unavailability of medications, said Zimbabwe needs to go a step further in achieving the World Health Organisation’s Universal Health Coverage objective.

In a statement, doctors said they remain resolute in their fight for the realisation of the right to the highest attainable standard of health for all Zimbabweans.

“As we acknowledge the work the government through the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MOHCC) and other stakeholders have been doing in promoting increased access to health care in Zimbabwe, we note that hard-to-reach areas and key populations remain with limited access to health care. 

Exclusion of sectors of our populations from accessing quality services hinder progress in achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC)," they said.

The medical practitioners said access to health care services fosters economic development and growth in the country.

“UHC is a key strategy in progressing towards the achievement of other health-related and broader development goals. 

Access to essential quality care and financial protection not only enhances people’s health and life expectancy, it also protects them from epidemics, reduces poverty and the risk of hunger, creates jobs, drives economic growth and enhances gender equality.

 This, therefore, means ensuring that everyone, everywhere can access essential quality health services without facing financial hardship,” said ZADHR.

The doctors also called for increased funding of the health sector in order to reduce the high dependency on donors in the country.

“As Zimbabwe and the world move towards #HealthForAll, ZADHR notes the need to strengthen the pillars of a ‘strong health system’ (WHO, 2004), that is, leadership and governance, financing, medicines and technology, human resources for health, information system for an efficient, reliable and responsive health service delivery system.

This, therefore, calls for increased funding for health in line with the Abuja Declaration. 

Strengthening domestic health financing initiatives to support the National Health Financing Policy, while reducing over dependency on donors. Prioritisation of indigent and marginalised communities to ensure equity in the enjoyment of health services. 

This includes but is not limited to the removal of user fees, as it extends to the need for the establishment of a viable health insurance model that protects the poor,” said ZADHR.

The world commemorated World Health Day last week under the theme “#Healthforall”. 

The objective this year is to ensure that everyone, everywhere can access quality health services.

In rural areas, people normally travel long distances to get assistance at health institutions and, more often than not, they are required to wait in long queues, as the doctor-to-patient ratio is higher than the United Nations' prescribed 1:200.

Health experts say access to healthcare is important for overall physical, social, and mental health status, prevention of disease, detection and treatment of illnesses, quality of life, preventable death and life expectancy.

The experts say in order for rural communities to have sufficient health care access, necessary and appropriate services must be available and obtainable in a timely manner.

They cite financial means to pay for services, such as health insurance coverage that is accepted by the provider, means to reach and use services, such as transportation to services that may be located at a distance.

African countries such as Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi and Botswana have tried to fill the gap through the engagement of voluntary village health workers who offer primary health care services to patients before referring them to clinics or hospitals.

According to UNICEF, community health workers have significantly contributed to the improvement of healthcare delivery in rural areas through interventions that have resulted in increased early antenatal care bookings, institutional deliveries and post-natal care visits.

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