Editor's Comment

Zambia can get out of ICU

“WE are embarrassed that after 50 years of independence, we are still referring patients abroad to go and seek medical attention. This must come to an end.”These are lamentations of Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya, who desires to have Zambians treated within the country.
The minister is concerned about the increase in the number of patients being sent abroad for medical attention due to failure by health practitioners to respond to their needs.
It is indeed sad that more than five decades after attaining political independence, Zambia is still struggling with self-determination of medical treatment.
Many Zambians are flying to various parts of the world, especially India, in pursuit of specialist treatment for infertility, orthopaedic, cardiac, oncology problems and organ transplants, among other ailments.
Government and some citizens continue spending colossal sums of money on specialist treatment abroad when the country can build capacity to attend to all sorts of health conditions.
Besides the huge expenditure, seeking specialist treatment from far-flung countries can be stressful, especially for those in critical condition.
However, for most of these patients, seeking medical treatment abroad is the only option available to restore health.
This is mainly because generally, Zambia’s health facilities have inadequate specialists to handle delicate health procedures like surgeries.
This has been compounded by the rapid population growth, which has translated into more people seeking specialist treatment.
The brain drain has not made things any easier.
Sometime back, the University Teaching Hospital announced that it had 1,000 cardiac patients on the surgery waiting list.
It is such scenarios that have left patients with no option but to seek medical attention elsewhere where it is readily available for as long as one has the money to meet the high costs.
Though Zambia boasts of well-qualified, competent and internationally renowned medics, they are inadequate considering the growing disease burden, leading to most of them being overworked.
Besides the shortage of human resource, limited infrastructure and medical requisites have also contributed to more people seeking medical attention abroad.
In other instances, some citizens just lack confidence in local health facilities for one reason or the other.
Although the situation may seem grim, there is still light at the end of the tunnel. This is because the country is slowly but surely gaining momentum in as far as offering specialist medical treatment is concerned.
In February this year, a team of Zambian surgeons at UTH conducted the first-ever medical procedure where a set of conjoined twins was successfully separated in an unprecedented breakthrough.
This came a few months after another successful brain surgery at the country’s teaching hospital.
When the Patriotic Front formed government after the 2011 elections, it rolled out a massive programme of improving and increasing health facilities. Zambia is witnessing more investments in modernisation of health facilities, including the dismantling of UTH into mini-hospitals.
Unlike in the past, UTH now has modernised health equipment such as CT scans – computerised tomography, some super special X-ray and MRI (magnetic resonant imaging).
While Zambians relied on other countries for cancer treatment, radiation and chemotherapy some years back, today, Zambia has a Cancer Diseases Hospital (CDH) in Lusaka, which is also catering for patients from all over southern Africa, thereby promoting medical tourism.
UTH also has a full-fledged renal ward for dialysis.
More hospitals and health posts have been constructed across the country.
This is indeed evidence of political will and Government’s commitment to deliver quality health care to citizens.
Whereas these developments in the health sector may not be sufficient to cater for all the health needs of Zambians, they have certainly placed the country in a better place than it was years back.
It is, however, not time to relent but push further until such a time when Zambians will no longer see any need to seek medical treatment abroad.
It is good that Government will soon embark on training of health personnel in various courses following the establishment of Levy Mwanawasa Medical University. This will certainly boost the number of health specialists.
Priority should, however, be given to specialist areas with acute shortage of human resource such as surgery, among others.
There is need to train more medics to address the manpower shortage in the sector.
Government should also continue investing in infrastructure to match the growing population and disease burden.
Ultimately, the goal should not only be to stop Zambians from seeking medical treatment abroad but for our country to become a health tourism destination.

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