Monday, July 17, 2017

Maternal healthcare given the top priority

Mothers take care of their new born

Mothers take care of their new born babies.PHOTO|FILE 

By Dr. Sajjad Fazel

While the total budget of the ministry of health has reduced substantially this year, it is important to note that there are differences in the allocation of funds for each sector within the ministry. A few sectors have a raise while others a reduction.

Maternal and child health

The sector for maternal and child health has a budget increase (Sh14 billion) of over four times compared to that of last year (Sh3 billion).

This is a very crucial decision as maternal deaths in Tanzania, represent 18 per cent of all deaths for young women. The increase in budget will aim to reduce maternal deaths by paying the insurance for underprivileged women, purchasing ultrasounds, renovating/establishing new maternity wards and also providing free anti-anemic medications among many others.

Primary healthcare

The budget for primary healthcare services in dispensaries, health centers and district hospitals has been slashed by a third from last year. (Sh646 billion in 2016/17 to 2017/18).

This is very alarming especially with the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases.

A large reduction in the budget of primary health care services can have a detrimental impact on citizens depending on government institutions for diagnosis and treatment of both infectious and chronic diseases.

Cancer control

The Sh14.5 billion allocated for procuring diagnostic and therapeutic items for ocean road cancer institute is much needed as it will reduce referrals abroad and save Sh5 billion.

Mental health

However, the amount allocated for mental health, a humble Sh1 billion (less than one per cent of the total health budget) is quite disappointing. Of the estimated 2.5 million people in Tanzania that suffer from mental illness, only 20 per cent have access to mental health services. This is an area that is always overlooked by each and every government. In conclusion, while the Tanzania health budget for 2017/18 had positive highlights for maternal and child health as well as cancer services, the reduction in budget for primary health care services as well as mental health is something that needs to be looked at very keenly by the administration.

Tanzania is currently undergoing a double burden of both an increase in communicable and non-communicable diseases. It is very crucial for the social and economic development of the nation that the health sector be handled with care and involve public and private stakeholders alike.

The author is a pharmacist and a public health advocate.

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