‘We should not joke about this’ – Ruth Labode’s rousing speech in Parliament on health

MDC MP Dr Ruth Labode (Matabeleland North)

MDC MP Dr Ruth Labode (Matabeleland North), during a debate on the 2019 budget statement, made the following contribution on Health (December 19, 2018):

I will be brief.  I just wanted to tell the Minister that personally I was very disappointed with the allocation for the Ministry of Health.  Seven hundred million dollars ($694,5 million) allocated to the Ministry of Health today translates to about US$200 million. That is enough in hospitals for food and cleaning material but no drug will be bought in that institution.

As I am talking to you today, there are no drugs in hospitals. Forget about the doctors being on strike. Even if you went to the hospital, you would actually be told to go and buy your drugs. We should not joke about this, because this is serious. Health is not like agriculture. We can choose to go on a hunger strike for a month but you cannot choose to allow a sickness to last for more than 24 hours in you, you will die.

I once saw the Minister (Mthuli Ncube) on a programme where he says actually he does not subscribe to the 15 percent Abuja Declaration as a benchmark for a good budget allocation but rather he believes in impact. I watched that and I said to myself; as people are dying in the hospital, in his mid-term review, he must tell us how many people have died in these Central Hospitals, which to me will be an impact. Fifteen percent for me also, I don’t believe is enough because it depends on your economy I think, but still it is something that tells you that you have put adequate money towards something.

Today we were in Kadoma as a Committee on Health. We met the Ministry of Health, they raised these issues and I asked the Director for non-communicable diseases to do a snap survey immediately now on the death from diabetes, hypertension and cancers related to the situation that is on now. Also, they should go back a year and see how many people died at the same time because people are dying I’m telling you, yet we are sitting here and joking.

I want to tell you that if today we approved this budget, tomorrow the $200 million will go out there and buy soap at times four, buy cabbage to feed people in the hospitals. They will not buy drugs because they do not have foreign currency. We invited the pharmaceutical industry to the Health Committee and something came out very clear there. The manufacturers want foreign currency to manufacture; that is a long-term strategy. The wholesalers want foreign currency to supply pharmacies and that is another mid-term strategy. I know the government has opted to re-vitalise NatPharm, which I think is a brilliant idea but unfortunately it is another mid-term one. Hon. Minister, we have been revitalising NatPharm since Adam was a fetus. I have been at this game. It needs fiscal discipline, you need to set a good board and you need to move at such a speed you have never seen to say NatPharm will take over and supply drugs immediately.

What I am saying is that we have no option but to move with NatPharm. We need to move at such a speed that within a month or so, NatPharm must take its own position and start supplying drugs to the public sector. If NatPharm supplies drugs to the public sector, allow the private institutions to find their own money and buy their drugs and sell at whatever price they so wish as long as drugs are there in institutions, in the public sector. That is how we used to operate in the 1980s when we were at hospitals. We had what was called the Medical Stores. The Medical Stores was given the mandate by the government to order drugs on behalf of public institutions. We got our drugs from public institutions and not from a private supplier somewhere and then we distributed. We never even knew where the pharmacies got the drugs because they were not allowed to buy from the Medical Stores but there were drugs in the pharmacies. So, what I am saying is that yes, I applaud you Minister but you need to move faster on Natpharm.

We lobbied for a levy called the health levy with civil society with the last Minister of Finance. We had so many meetings with him and we finally agreed that as a move to increase domestic funding towards health, we introduce this health levy. That money was supposed to come to the health sector, not part of the money to go somewhere we don’t know. Now, we are learning that you are actually collecting 10 percent and giving only 5 percent to the Ministry of Health. We demand that you give the 10 percent and that you go backwards to where you started collecting and bring the money back to where it belongs because that money would make a huge difference.

We were collecting that money for non-communicable diseases because we know the other diseases are covered by the Global Fund, WHO and so on but there is a section – no donor wants to give the hospitals money because that is what exposes the incompetence of the government. If you don’t give hospitals money quickly, the masses know that people are dying but with HIV one will die in their village or wherever. We have no donor in hospitals and so, we need the government to stand in hospitals. We need our money Minister, tomorrow!

As I stand here, I know people think that we are just here to condemn the Minister. The idea for this debate is to bring to the attention of the Minister some of the issues that he may not be thinking about, not just to be time flyers – no, but to bring some of these issues. Minister, I am asking for this money.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube replied:

From Hon. Dr. Labode, on the issue of adhering to the Abuja 15 percent ratio in terms of allocation, we will strive to meet this objective over time through a multi-year budgeting approach. We cannot do it in one year, certainly not. But again we are quite pleased with the amount that we have allocated to the health sector and it is one of the highest budget allocations which in fact is an improvement from the previous year.

On the issue of drugs, we are doing everything we can to support NatPharm, which has been announced by the Minister of Health and Child Care how we are supporting NatPharm so that we can break the monopoly that is resulting in all these high prices on drugs being sold through means that I will not care to describe which are hurting our people. We are doing everything we can Hon. Labode to make sure that the health budget is supported. – ZimLive