THE Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) wants clarity on the monetary currency used in Zimbabwe as patients and healthcare funders bear the brunt of pumping huge amounts of money pegged against the United States Dollar.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
Giving submissions before the Parliamentary Portfolio on Health and Child Care on Tuesday, AHFoZ chairperson Mr Stanford Sisya said this confusion leaves the healthcare funders and patients suffering more.
“We have noticed an upsurge in terms of inflation since October 2018. As healthcare funders, what we have faced is an issue where we have lost what was in our reserves that we build over the past few years since dollarization. So in terms of our statutory requirements, you will find that we are having challenges now in terms of having those reserves. And it affects the climate payment cycle,” he said.
With a single dialysis session fetching US$200, Mr Sisya said the pricing becomes a heavy burden for the patient who cannot afford to get the scarce United States Dollar.
“Then in terms of the other challenges that we are facing. The second challenge that we are facing, chair, is on the service providers whereby services are being charged in USD and most of them are using the parallel rate. Right now for example, they are charging US$200 for a dialysis session. When the rate for the day for example at 8, the patient will have to pay RTGS$1 600 for that particular session.
“When you look at dialysis cases, someone needs the dialysis about three or four times a week. It becomes a huge burden to us and also the patients because the costs are not sustainable. Right now the challenge we face is that our members are not being paid in US dollars and their salaries are not tracking the US Dollar. It’s quite unfortunate that we have got a situation where it seems everyone is talking about the rate. Whether it’s a newborn baby born today, it will be asking about the rate. Or someone having their last breath, they will be talking about the rate today. So the rate has become the biggest driver which is quite unfortunate given our industry,” he said. “So in terms of the functional currency Chair, as AHFoZ we believe we should have one. Medical aid Societies continue to do business in RTGS$ as their members are not earning US dollars. This has caused a huge mismatch between what funders are paying out and what the service providers are charging. The result of which is a dilemma to the patient.”
He recommended that to circumvent the currency confusion, there was need to do away with the US$ out of the multi-currency system since Finance Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube’s announcement that RTGS$ is the country’s domestic currency.
“As AHFoZ we propose that if the RTGS$ is the official currency, then the US$ should be pulled out of the multicurrency basket as it is causing distortions. The US$ should remain as a reserve currency and be used to preserve value for savings made prior the introduction of the RTGS$. We believe that the US$ can then be allocated to healthcare providers whose operations have an import component.
“They need forex like your pharmaceutical sector, hospital drugs, consumables, laboratories and radiology services. All local transactions which do not require foreign currency should therefore be conducted in local currency as it is not sustainable to use a very strong currency, the US$ with the weak local currency we have got.
“ Unless if the intention of the authority is to redollarise. But this has to be done holistically. If people choose to use US$ lets go for the US$. If we are using say RTGS$ let’s just use the RTGS$ as a functional currency because it will help everyone to plan around that,” said Mr Sisya.
Mr Sisya also mentioned that despite the association reimbursing healthcare service providers RTGS$35, patients are still made to pay in United States dollars for consultations with physicians charging US$250 for a hospital visit. “This is quite a huge strain and when you look at illness, its something that befalls on someone without notice. All of us can fall sick at anytime. We do not have these US$ and it can happen at odd times of the night.
Hwange Central legislator Hon Daniel Molokela said the confusion caused by the Treasury amounted to a state genocide as healthcare costs continue to soar.
“We are talking about people with chronic conditions, you talked about dialysis machines as very expensive. Has there been a sort of mushroom effect in terms of impact or have people found ways to mitigate the impact.
“I think its important to have some kind of report especially when you are engaging the Treasury, The Ministry of Finance to say for the health sector, since you announced that Monetary and Fiscal policies this is how it has affected us in terms of mortality or morbidity rates.
“This is how this has affected us. It’s like a state funded genocide. We are actually killing our citizens through monetary and fiscal policies. Is there such a research maybe through the University of Zimbabwe or NUST because we could use that to have a compelling argument against the Minister of Finance and others to say you are actually killing citizens?,” he quizzed AHFoZ.