2022 budget lacked clear COVID-19 allocation
By Own Correspondent
The lack of a ring-fenced COVID-19 provision from the Health budget allocation in the 2022 National Budget presented by Finance Minister, Mthuli Ncube last week could weaken the country’s response to the fourth wave, procurement of booster shots and the threat of the new Omicron variant, a medical expert has warned.
In the 2022 budget, the ministry of health was allocated ZWL$ 117.7 billion which translates to US$ 1.1 billion or US$ 589 million using the official and parallel market rates, respectively.
Minister Ncube said the health budget will seek to address the shortage of medicines, low morale of medical personnel, shortage of critical infrastructure and equipment, including the provision of medical equipment, ambulances and operational vehicles.
“The 2022 National Budget will provide for salaries of health staff of local authorities chiefly Chitungwiza and Harare. The recruitment of health workers and the training of more health personnel remains a top priority for the government as it gears towards improving service delivery in the health sector,”
“In addition, the health sector is projected to benefit from Development Partner support of US$481 million in 2022, largely from the US Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and Global Fund, which are projected to disburse US$213 million and US$197.5 million, respectively. The targeted interventions will include TB, Malaria and HIV/AIDS,” said Mthuli Ncube.
However, while the interventions with regards to prioritizing other areas within the healthcare sector were widely accepted, the budget failed to clearly define its COVID-19 financing strategy in the wake of an impending fourth wave and the Omicron variant.
“What is very clear is that there must be money available in short order should a new wave demand you to strengthen port of entry control, responses, expand testing capacity, providing money for therapeutics,” said Dr Tinashe Gede, a specialist physician who has been working in COVID-19 red zone unit at St Annes Hospital since the pandemic started.
Last year, the government set aside US$100 million towards the procurement of vaccines and more resources from the 2022 National Budget were expected to be specifically set aside for the continuation of the fight against COVID-19.
“The problem of not having a ring-fenced budget is that you then have to rely on the line ministries to either take from the allocated budget and channel that money to COVID19, it makes it difficult to figure out that how much was spent on COVID, how quickly was it deployed and how much of a difference did it make. So, I’m a big fan for accountable systems that makes it easier to follow where the money is going and how it’s being used,” he said.
Zimbabwe still needs massive resources to fund its COVID-19 vaccination and response system to unforeseen developments such as the mutations of variants.
Currently, Zimbabwe has procured just above 12 million vaccines and it requires a minimum of 20 million to be able to achieve herd immunity of inoculating 10 million people with double doses.
“A big concern is that we are definitely going to end up needing a third dose for most of our population and that is going to happen in the next six to 12 months, so we need to find a way to finance that. The beauty of having a specific allocated COVID-19 budget is that it allows you to ring-fence it from extra use or loss to other areas and you can specifically fundraise for COVID-19 initiatives into a common pool,” said Dr Gede.
There are also fears of an erosion of the value of allocated funds from the national budget given the inflationary environment in the country that has weakened the purchasing power of the local currency.
Critics say with morale in an all-time low within the health sector complemented by a mass exodus of skilled healthcare workers seeking greener pastures outside Zimbabwe. Budget priorities would have considered improving working conditions in the health sector.