By Michael Gwarisa
COMMUNITY Working Group on Health (CWGH) Executive Director Itai Josh Rusike says the new Public Health Act (PHA) should recognise Health Centre Committees (HCCs) as legal entities as they are a critical tool in enhancing Primary Health Care services.
In an interview with HealthTimes on the sidelines of a Media Engagement of the PHA, Rusike said it was worrying that HCCs were operating as illegal entities despite their positive contribution to the national health sector.
“Health Centre Committees (HCCs) are a mechanism through which community participation can be effectively integrated to achieve a sustainable people centered health system at the primary care level of the health system. They complement vital community level initiatives like community health workers, and mechanisms for public participation at all levels of the health system.
“In Zimbabwe, Health Centre Committees (HCCs) were originally proposed by the Ministry of Health and Child Care in the early 1980s to assist communities to identify their priority health problems, plan how to raise their own resources, organize and manage community contributions, and tap available resources for community development,” said Rusike.
He added that despite setting their roles and functions which date back as early as the 1980’s, HCCs still do not have a statutory instrument that specifically governs their roles and functions.
“This is a gap in the formal provisions for how communities should organize on health and PHC at primary care (health centre) level. While PHC is not only an issue for the health sector, and is thus taken up by more general local government structures, it is necessary that mechanisms exist within the health sector to align the health system to PHC and community issues, as well as to link and give leadership input to these more general structures.
“The absence of formal recognition may mean that other sectors do not act on health as it is not adequately profiled in their wider deliberations. The 2016-2020 National Health Strategy recognized this gap and made specific note of the importance of establishing health centre committees within the health system.”
Rusike went on to say that HCCs ensure the proper planning and implementation of primary health care in coordinated efforts with other relevant sectors. In doing this, they promote health as an indispensable contribution to the improvement of the quality of life of every individual, family and community as part of overall socio-economic development.
“While community participation demands much more than HCCs, institutionalizing and giving a formal mandate to HCCs is critical and key to achieving a sustainable people centered health system in Zimbabwe. Hence the need to urgently review the Public Health Act in order to give them the legal status
“The Public Health Act Review will include the actions taken to create conditions for and promote health, to prevent disease and prolong life; the actions taken by health care institutions to prevent, diagnose and treat disease, or improve family and community health and the actions of other sectors of government, public and private organisations, communities and individuals, media, business, academia to promote health.”
Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoCC) Brig Gerald Gwinji told the media engagement meeting that the Public Health Bill was in cabinet awaiting approval.
“The PHA is not the only ACT that is administered by the MoHCC, they are several others coming close to 18 or so. The two major ones that deal with medical service provision are the medical services Act which largely speaks to provision to provision of clinical services and the PHA which looks at broader public health matters.
“The current PHA was written in 1924, its a small document but it was robust for its time. It covers a lot of the aspects relating to public health. So it stood the test of time but however we had a lot of advances technologically and perceptions on health have changed too. The bill is now at cabinet and i could say its out of my jurisdiction now,” said Brig Gwinji