CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
AN 81-YEAR-OLD grandmother was found basking in the sun at a newly commissioned health post in a remote part of rural Kaoma district, Western Province, in July.
Zambia Daily Mail reporter Steven Mvula asked what her ailment was, but the granny simply smiled and shook her head.
â€œMy grandchild, I came here to admire this beautiful thing (health post) and observe what is happening here,â€ she told the reporter.
The old woman explained that there had never been a healthcare facility in her area since she was born, and that she had given birth to all her five children at home because the nearest healthcare facility had been about 40 kilometres away.
The construction of the health posts is one of the outstanding reforms introduced by the Patriotic Front (PF) under the leadership of late President Michael Sata in 2011 after nudging the MMD out of its 20-year-old rule, and later his successor Edgar Lungu.
Citizens, especially in rural and peri-urban areas, expressed their appreciation and desire to see more such development recently. They gave the PF a comfortable win over the United Party for National Development (UPND) in the August 11 general elections.
It is one of the reasons they have attached immense importance to yesterdayâ€™s inauguration of President Edgar Lungu and his indefatigable running mate Inonge Wina.
The inauguration signified assurance of uninterrupted development in the health sector that has seen a globally lauded reduction in the birth-related deaths of mothers and infants.
Only last month, President Lungu commissioned the state-of-the-art Copperbelt University (CBU) School of Medicine in Ndola on the Copperbelt, which he named after Mr Sata, the chief architect of the reforms.
Commissioning the K40 million annex on the eve of the general elections, President Lungu said Government remained committed to ensuring continued growth in the economy and higher education in the country.
Last December, he boldly declared that his administration is focused on transforming Zambia into a regional health tourism hub.
Speaking when he officiated at the first-ever annual ball and awards gala dinner for the Zambia Medical Association in Livingstone, President Lungu said the PF government would at the beginning of 2016 begin deploying doctors for super-specialisation in fields of cardiology, nephrology and haematology.
Zambiaâ€™s health sector is indeed in the middle of a revolution. The engagement of the Zambia National Service (ZNS) to take over the construction of 200 health posts in various parts of the country from sluggish contractors reflects unflinching resolve.
Former deputy minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya on July 7 this year announced that the government would complete the construction of the 650 health posts countrywide by the end of this year.
The massive programme is being funded through a US$55.9 million loan from India, US$44 million of which has been spent so far.
The reforms are producing notable results mainly because the government has employed a holistic approach that includes infrastructure, equipment, logistics, procurement and human resource development.
This approach has spawned, among others, four full-fledged tertiary level hospitals after Livingstone General Hospital in southern Province was upgraded to a central hospital to join Kitwe and Ndola on the Copperbelt.
â€œThe four tertiary hospitals are fully equipped with modern diagnostic equipment such as computerised tomography (CT) machines and renal dialysis units to handle complicated cases,â€ President Lungu reported last May in his state of the nation address.
He said the government has also completed phase two of the Cancer Diseases Hospital at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka with a 252 bed space capacity.
â€œThese measures will enable the facility to provide in-patient services and enhance service delivery for cancer patients both within and in the region [Southern Africa],â€ the President said.
And to decongest the four tertiary level hospitals, the President said Government has ensured a fair spread of district hospitals.
â€œA total of 39 district hospitals have been constructed and five of these are already operational. Further, Government has constructed 266 health posts of which 170 have been operationalised and are being utilised by local communities,â€ President Lungu said.
And Government realises that health facilities without trained staff are of no use. Therefore, to ensure the health posts and hospitals do not turn into the proverbial white elephants, it is refurbishing old and building new training institutions to bolster the current pool of qualified health workers to run them.
Only last week, the University of Zambia (UNZA)â€™s School of Medicine announced that it has just produced the largest ever number of graduates in its history.
Vice-chancellor Luke Mumba said the university has released 117 doctors and 197 nurses into the health sector at once.
Professor Mumba said UNZA has in the past been producing between 40 and 60 doctors per intake.
President Lungu proudly announced last May: â€œSo far, 27 institutions have been rehabilitated. Construction of a 3,000-student capacity training facility at Levy Mwanawasa Hospital in Lusaka is progressing well. Similar construction works are underway across the country.â€
There are also numerous nursing schools.
The reforms are also creating thousands of jobs for the youth. Dr Chilufya announced three months ago that the Ministry of Health will recruit 9,000 health workers to staff the health facilities countrywide.
The benefits are immense. President Lungu said the countrywide investment has reduced the distances communities used to cover to access healthcare services.
The President said according to latest statistics, child and maternal health indicators have improved significantly.
â€œMaternal mortality ratio declined from 591 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007 to 398 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014. Similarly, the under-five mortality rate has declined from 119 per 1,000 live births in 2007 to 75 per 1,000 live births in 2014,â€ he said.
President Lungu said the infant mortality rate declined from 70 to 45 per 1,000 live births over the same period.
Zambians are now assured of more accelerated development in the sector in the next five years. What about a toast?
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka