By Michael Gwarisa
THE cost of blood in Zimbabwe remains expensive for ordinary Zimbabweans despite the move by government to slash the price of a unit of blood, which is 250ml, to US$100 from US$135 in government hospitals last year, a top health official has said.
Community Working Group on Health Executive Director, Mr Itai Rusike said it was high time government moves to address the blood pricing issue as it was putting lives of vulnerable and poor Zimbabweans who cant afford blood in danger.
“The Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) is concerned by the increasing number of people who are dying in public hospitals because they cannot afford to buy blood and equally worrying is that families are having to dispose their priced possessions for a song to save the lives of their loved ones. Zimbabwe faces a high demand for blood transfusion due to bleeding related to pregnancy and child birth, high traffic accidents and other types of injuries.
“However, the most affected are pregnant women who require the life-saving commodity. About half a million pregnancies are expected in Zimbabwe and some of these there is excessive blood loss, requiring transfusion of at least three pints. Timely blood transfusion prevents maternal deaths which in Zimbabwe stands at 614 women dying per very 100 000 live births,” said Rusike.
A unit of blood costs US$125 on average in private institutions, and according to Rusike is still too high and unaffordable to many Zimbabweans.
“What is however baffling is that the same amount of blood costs far less in neighbouring countries. For example, a pint of blood costs US$50 in Zambia and US$42 in Malawi, which is less than half of what it costs in Zimbabwe. What other screening procedures are done on blood in Zimbabwe that are not done in Zambia or Malawi?
“For donating blood, donors only enjoy a drink and biscuit. However, it is also not a guarantee that if you are a blood donor you get blood at no cost when you need it.”
Meanwhile, Rusike also said the other major issue of concern besides affordability was that of accessibility.
An analysis that was carried out by the Ministry of Health and Child Care shows that 60% of secondary facilities were found to have no blood in their stocks. Some facilities could not stock blood because of unavailability of fridges, electricity and general poor infrastructure.
Turning to the issue of management and general running of the National Blood Transfusion Services, Rusike said poor management of the institution had run down the organization over the years and there was need for an overhaul change in management.
“It is therefore paramount for the government to consider other alternatives such as solar refrigerators for storing blood products. As CWGH we believe that to turn around the fortunes of NBSZ, which currently operates as a non-profit making company and whose funding is based on cost recovery fees, should shed that status to be able to attract donors, a situation that would result in reduced blood costs.
“The issue of blood is a national issue and should by all means attract interest of donors especially at this point in time when the country is experiencing an economic meltdown. It cannot be left to be managed by a non profit making company that has a board of directors. CWGH believe in universal access to health services that includes accessibility of blood without restricting the principle of good governance and accountability, which we believe must be the most important criterion by which NBSZ performance is assessed.”
Reports of alleged poor governance and alleged poor accountability within the institution of NBSZ, alleged corporate tags that drive away potential donors has also been blamed for chasing away investors and potential donors who might harbor interests in breathing life into the ailing institution.
“It is worrying that issues of governance and accountability continue to crop up once the name NBSZ is mentioned. There is need to set limits of term of office for Board members as well as set out clear parameters of their duties to avoid interference in the day-to-day operations of the institution a move that prevents smooth execution of work by the management.
“The board must have a functional constitution and only people of professional integrity must sit on the Board. It is unacceptable and unheard of in the normal corporate world that a person can chair the Board for 38 years, as if he has messianic abilities and only competent person that has lived on earth. There is need for curriculum vitae and employment and service history of board members to be made public,” added Rusike.
He alsos suggested that no board members fired or who resigns from mainstream boards should be allowed to sit in the NBSZ board without due diligence has been made that they are clean.
“Presently, there are no term limits, no skills mix, no direct election of Board members from the blood donors, allegedly no clear policies that define Board members’ duties; allegedly no board charter and the sitting allowances should be abolished and replaced with a basic token of appreciation.
“Basic tenets of good governance and accountability suffer when one stays too long in one position. Representation in the board must also reflect the current gender and racial dynamics in the country. Out of the 17 Board members, there are no females save for one female CEO. We are appalled by reports that the only director at NBSZ is 74 years old and while others are being retired for reaching retirement age he is being kept. Why? When in Zimbabwe we have competent medical practitioners who are young.
“CWGH believes the NBSZ urgently needs a structural and operational overhaul so that it can respond the tenets of good governance and accountability for the benefit of the ordinary Zimbabwean who presently cannot access or afford the cost of blood.”
The CWGH director also urged the MoHCC to urgently institute investigations into the operations of NBSZ and make recommendations that promote proper operations to avoid preventable and unnecessary loss of lives. We demand that this be done as a matter of urgency, failure of which CWGH shall take legal recourse against the NBSZ and call all board members to resign.