Analysis: FREDRICK CHITANGALA
THE whole world commemorated the World Health Day on April 7, 2019 with a global theme, ‘Universal health coverage: Everyone, everywhere’. Here is how important this theme was for my cousin living in Chobela village in Chief Mukungule.
They may not have a university teaching hospital there, but they need a rural health centre or health post within walking distance.
For those whose medical conditions need specialised attention, their financial position should not restrict them from getting to a level one, two or even three hospital.
This means that even if my cousin is broke, like she is most times, she can still access the best medical care available because she is covered under the social health insurance (SHI). For a layman, this is achieving universal health coverage for everyone and everywhere. We could not have had a better theme for this year’s World Health Day than this.
In Zambia, we had our National Health Week from May 6-11, 2019, with various activities taking place around the country.
The official launch though took place at the revived Olympic Youth Development Centre (OYDC), with a special launch by President Edgar Lungu on May 8, 2019.
I was particularly impressed with this year’s health week for two reasons: First, though most service providers were camped at OYDC throughout the week, service provision and National Health Week activities took place simultaneously in all locations, both around Lusaka and other parts of the country.
Secondly, even though all services took place daily everywhere, each day had a different theme.
Monday was used to highlight Maternal and Child Health (MCH), eliminating malaria and environmental health while Tuesday highlighted our fight against HIV and AIDS.
Wednesday was special for many reasons; the National Health Week was officially launched by President Lungu, who also launched the undetectable equals to untransmittable campaign (U=U).
In his keynote speech, President Lungu declared maternal and perinatal deaths a public health emergency in Zambia.
With 10 to 15 women dying per week in Zambia due to pregnancy-related causes, the President was well in order.
We are talking about promoting health and well-being towards universal health coverage and yet, in 2018 alone, 787 women died due to pregnancy- related complications in Zambia. How do we justify our efforts in attaining universal health coverage?
Oh, by the way, 20 percent (158) of that figure was in Lusaka Province alone, registering the highest maternal deaths in 2018 among all the 10 provinces.
Again, where is our justification? We have the highest number of doctors, referral hospitals and health centres in Lusaka and yet performance on this major indicator is inversely related to our capacity. This indeed is an emergency.
The President further showed concern at the fact that 23 percent of all deaths in the country are due to non-communicable diseases, most of which are preventable.
Kudos to President Lungu for leading a successful campaign on personal wellness through physical exercise, as one of the most cost-effective ways of fighting NCDs.
Indeed, promoting health and well-being towards universal health coverage is my responsibility.
Thursday was another day to remember. The highlight was a focus on adolescent health and the subsequent launch of integrated health outreach services in tertiary institutions. During the launch, Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya expressed worry that the rate of HIV infections, especially among the female adolescents and youths. For female adolescents and girls between the ages of 20 and 24, the infection rate was at 8.6 percent while for males in the same age group, it was at 2.1 percent.
He further said creating a comprehensive primary health service within tertiary institutions would ensure that comprehensive promotive and preventive health services are provided within the confines of the learning institutions.
This was lauded, extolled and exalted by Minister of Higher Education Nkandu Luo, who welcomed the programme and urged students not to indulge in alcohol consumption and unprotected sex because these could increase their chances of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and cervical cancer.
Friday was dedicated to showing how much mileage we have covered in infrastructure development in health. Indeed if we have to achieve universal health coverage, we need infrastructure in every corner of this nation.
Saturday was another memorable day. The thematic highlight was on non-communicable diseases, nutrition and food safety. But what has lingered in the minds of most of us is joining President Lungu for a morning run at State Lodge where we did a bit more than 10km.
The President has been consistent on this, and several citizens are slowly adapting to the “cool” way of life such that it has now become normal to see people jog as early as 04:30 hours.
We all need to play a role in the fight against non-communicable diseases. It was soon after this morning run that the Head of State officially declared the end of the National Health Week.
So if you thought this year’s health week was not a success, you obviously were not in Zambia. More than 27,000 people accessed health, medical and information services during this week alone.
And this does not include thousands who directly and indirectly took part in the different sports activities.
On a lighter note, a few things left me smiling. First, I tried to be clever by faking my appearance to look older so I could be screened for prostate cancer, but I was caught napping and told the service was for those aged 50 and above. Poor me, I have to wait for few more years.
Secondly, I was impressed with the amount of competition for visibility and presidential attention that I saw among service providers and exhibitors with the malaria elimination, and UTH having the biggest tents.
But I personally feel that it would have been appropriate to have health financing or National Health Insurance Management Authority (NHIMA) to have the biggest tent with the loudest banner across it.
Alas, we never saw them and yet, just like infrastructure and service delivery, they are a key component of attaining universal health coverage. They were absent. I think that this office should have shared the limelight with U=U campaign.
Anyway, we had a chance to celebrate health and mingle with our leaders and remind each other that everyone should be able to access the health care they need, when and where they need it.
Advocacy events were held around the country to fuel the momentum of the #HealthForAll movement and to highlight the goal of achieving a fairer, healthier Zambia – in which no one is left behind.
The focus was on equity and solidarity – on raising the bar for health for everyone, everywhere by addressing gaps in services, and leaving no one behind.
Hey, make use of screening services so your condition can be detected earlier. We want you well and productive tomorrow. No health, no wealth. This is the Zambia I want.
The author is a public health lecturer/researcher and director of the Olympic Youth Development Centre (OYDC).
Analysis: FREDRICK CHITANGALA