Health Gets US$694 million

TREASURY on Thursday allocated US$694, 5 million to the Ministry of Health and Childcare in the 2019 National Budget.

By Kudakwashe Pembere

In January, former minister of Finance and Economic Development Patrick Chinamasa buckled under the pressure of legislators to increase the allocation for Health to US$520 million from US$454 million.

The Health Ministry during a Health and Childcare parliamentary portfolio committee hearing expected an allocation of  US$1, 3 billion from the ‘National Purse’.

Making his debut 2019 National Budget presentation, Finance Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube increased the Health budget by 33 percent from last year’s allotment. The Health Ministry received 10 percent of the national budget of US$6, 5 billion. With the Abuja declaration stipulating a minimum 15 percent for Health sector, this leaves a gap of 5 percent.

“With regards to health care, the goal is to ensure that the four levels of care (primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary), are supported with respect to infrastructure, equipment and health supplies. Focus will also be on ensuring that the referral system is re-established in order to reduce bottlenecks being experienced at tertiary and central hospitals.

“Support to the health sector will be complemented by the other interventions Government is making in roads, water and sanitation provision and food security, among others, which have a bearing on the health status of citizens.

“In general, Government is desirous to see the development of a medical tourism industry in the country. Mr Speaker Sir, I propose an overall allocation of US$694.5 million to the Ministry of Health and Child Care,” he said.

Noting the unscrupulous pricing of medicines by pharmacies, extended the rebate of pharmaceutical raw materials.

“Mr. Speaker Sir, in recognition of the significance of the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, Government has already provided for a rebate of duty facility on essential raw materials imported for manufacture by the industry.

“The Facility has, thus, assisted in the promotion of linkages with the packaging, distribution and marketing industries, thereby boosting employment.  The industry is in the process of registering new products, hence, I propose to expand the list of essential raw materials for manufacture under rebate of duty, with effect from 1 January 2019,” he said.

He went on to say, “Notwithstanding assistance availed to the industry, retail prices of pharmaceutical products, in particular, drugs for treatment of chronic ailments, have increased and are either quoted in United States Dollars, or four times the same amount, if payment is through electronic funds transfer or bond notes. The unscrupulous profiteering at the expense of patients who cannot afford is inhumane, catastrophic and deprives citizens of basic human rights as enshrined in the Constitution. Government will, thus, continue to prioritise allocation of foreign currency for purchase of raw materials, in order to ensure availability of critical drugs.”

Minister Ncube added that the pharmaceutical industry should reach a consensus and publicise the pricing.

“As a quid pro quo, pharmaceutical manufacturers shall be required to publish the Maximum Recommended Retail Price agreed among manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. Whilst this measure is intended to provide transparency in the pricing of essential drugs, it should, thus, not be misconstrued as price control. Government will, however, provide an oversight role, in order to ensure that the above conditions are adhered to,” he said.

On to medical regulatory authorities, the Finance Minister exempted the them from remitting their VATs until the end of this month.

“I propose to exempt Medical Statutory Bodies from the requirement to charge and remit Value Added Tax for the period 2009 to 30 November 2018.  Medical Statutory Bodies would, however, be required to adhere with current legislative provisions, with effect from 1 December 2018,” he said.

The Treasury boss also suspended duty on sanitary wear.

“Mr Speaker Sir, in order to cushion underprivileged women and girls in the interim, whilst the local supply of sanitary wear improves, I propose to suspend customs duty for a period of 12 months beginning 1 December 2018,” he said.

Reacting  to the allocation, Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) director Mr Ital Rusike said the presentation showed less prioritisation of health.

“The budget allocation for health did not increase in real terms (although it may have shown a nominal increase) and did not even begin to match the priority placed by a wide spectrum of society,” he said. “The advent

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