CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH

Zambia 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hon. Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, Minister of Health, on the progress made in the healthcare sector and attracting greater investment.

 Hon. Dr. Chitalu Chilufya
BIOGRAPHY
Prior to his appointment as Minister of Health in 2016, Hon. Dr. Chitalu Chilufya served as Deputy Minister of Health, and has been the Member of Parliament for Mansa Central constituency since 2013. He has a medical background, having worked as a doctor before his entry into politics.

To what elements of public health policy do you attribute Zambia's considerable progress in improving healthcare?

We have run a transformational agenda in line with the long-term aspiration of this country to become a prosperous middle-income country by 2030. In our pursuit of the African Union Agenda 2063, and sustainable development goals for 2030, our strategy shall be premised on strengthening health systems and services, using the primary health care approach, to enhance the wellbeing of all Zambians.

What are the guiding principles of this agenda?

In our quest to build a healthy and productive nation, we are emphasizing strong intersectoral actions to address determinants of health, such as water and sanitation, nutrition, education (especially for girls), household income, housing, and road infrastructure. We will continue coalition building to leverage resources for health. Nutrition will solve 60-70% of our health problems. Water and sanitation, including access to clean water, will reduce the number of children coming down with diphtheria. We are re-organizing our health delivery model to emphasize, in this particular order: health promotion, disease prevention, and curative and rehabilitative services in close-to-client settings. We are relocating the entry point to the health system from the curative-based platforms to promotive and preventive community-based care models as close as possible to the family. Our health system's agenda is premised on six key pillars: health services delivery, human resources for health, the health supply chain, information systems, infrastructure and medical equipment, and leadership and governance.

How will you engage with key stakeholders to improve access to healthcare?

Tied in with increasing access to healthcare for our people is an emphasis on health promotion, the bedrock for disease prevention. This is being anchored on strengthened collaboration between ministries, private sector, civil society, community-based organizations, media, faith-based organizations, academia, civic, political, religious, and traditional leaders and indeed the general public. We are strengthening the supply chain management from procurement, inventory management, through to storage and distribution. We have established regional medical stores hubs in four regions and within this year two more shall be established. The aim is to reduce the distances between transporting the medicines and supplies from the central medical stores to service delivery points. This approach is improving our last mile distribution.

What measures is the government implementing to boost human capacity in health?

To fix the health system in Zambia, we realized the need to invest in a robust human capital development plan and increase the numbers of people being trained. We are looking at innovative ways to train people, including e-learning and distance learning, as well as accrediting more hospitals as internship sites for medical doctors. The spin off benefit is that apart from providing training ground for the young doctors, we are also offering better staffing in rural areas. We have already accredited 11 such hospitals, and look to increase this number. In the meantime, we are building new health facilities. Since 2011, we have constructed and operationalized 14 district hospitals, while 36 are currently under different stages of construction. In addition we embarked on a construction of 650 health posts, of which as of end of 2016, a total of 275 were completed and are in use. We have also partnered with the private sector in the training of doctors, nurses, and paramedics to add to the human resources pool. As a sector we are prioritizing leadership and governance at all levels and capacity building intervention in collaboration with partners is being undertaken.

How do you plan to continue attracting investors to Zambia's healthcare sector?

Zambia is ripe for investment and development. We want to create a strong medical tourism base. Investors in medical services in Zambia will also be able to tap into other markets in the region, considering our strategic location as a land-linked country surrounded by eight neighbouring countries. As far as selling Zambia as a destination for international investment, we want to draw attention to our stability, strong democracy, and peaceful transitions between governments. We also want to emphasize our accountability as a sector by ensuring that the resources we receive from taxpayers and donors are being well distributed and accounted for. It is because of this commitment to transparency that our relationship with donors has been superb. They have confidence in us and our government. We receive tremendous support from key partners. We have strong bilateral and multilateral partnerships providing platforms to leverage resources and improve our resource base.