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Zimbabwe launches health transition fund to revitalize care for children and women

MARONDERA, Zimbabwe, 2 November 2011 — In a move to revitalise Zimbabwe’s ailing health system, the Government, in partnership with UNICEF and international donors, has launched the Health Transition Fund to reduce the country’s high maternal and child mortality rates.

The fund will strengthen health systems and help abolish healthcare user fees for children and women, saving tens of thousands of lives and accelerating progress on the health-related Millennium Development Goals.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on a new Health Transition Fund created by the Government of Zimbabwe in partnership with UNICEF, which aims to revitalize the national health care system and integrate maternal and child survival programmes.

A dramatic decline in services

In the last decade, Zimbabwe has witnessed a dramatic decline in health service delivery, resulting in a devastating increase in child and maternal mortality.

Currently, one in three children is stunted and nearly 100 children die every day from preventable diseases. At least eight women die every day due to pregnancy-related complications, the majority in rural areas where health facilities are not easily accessible.

The unregulated use of patient fees has contributed to these tragic numbers. While Zimbabwe’s health policy calls for free care for pregnant women and children under five, lack of sufficient funding has forced many health institutions to charge for even basic services. Pregnant women pay between US$3 and US$50 to deliver in a government or municipal facility and, because the country lacks a functional ambulance system, they may also incur transportation fees. These costs are often prohibitive, leaving poor women to give birth outside the health system, in the absence of skilled birth attendants, where both mothers and children are vulnerable to complications.

Removing barriers to care

The Health Transition Fund aims to halt this disastrous trend, setting a five-year plan to improve maternal, newborn and child survival.

UNICEF Zimbabwe/2011/Chikerema
© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2011/Chikerema
UNAIDS Country Director Dr. Tatiana Shoumilana, Health Advisor in the office of the President Dr. Timothy Stamps, UNICEF Representative Dr. Peter Salama, and WHO Representative Dr. Custodia Mandhlate at the launch of the of the Health Transition Fund.

“The issue of user fees is one of the biggest barriers to poor women and children’s access to life-saving and critical health care in Zimbabwe,” said UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama at the launch of the Health Transition Fund. “I would like to congratulate the Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe, with the support of the international donor community, for making this bold commitment to removing user fees for the most vulnerable in our society.”

The Health Transition Fund will additionally support improvements in the quality of maternal and child health and nutrition services. It will also fund medicines, equipment and personnel, and assist in the development of health policy and planning.

Prime Minister Morgan Richard Tsvangirai emphasized the Government’s commitment to improving the health sector. “The Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe remains committed to achieving its health-related Millennium Development Goals,” he said. “There is a need for a unified, national effort towards improving access to quality health care, especially for women and children.”

Progress is being made

While the challenges are daunting, progress has been made in the past few years. Since a 2008 cholera outbreak claimed the lives of more than 4,000 people, UNICEF has been working with the Government and various partners to rehabilitate water and sanitation infrastructure in 20 major cities and towns. This investment has helped prevent other water-borne diseases and outbreaks.

The Health Transition Fund will keep this momentum going.

“With the Health Transition Fund, we have an opportunity to accelerate our efforts to bring the Zimbabwe Health Sector back on its feet,” said Dr. Henry Madzorera, Minister of Health and Child Welfare.

Dr. Custodia Mandhlate, World Health Organization Country Representative echoed this sentiment. “I have confidence that this investment in Zimbabwe’s health sector will make a huge difference in the lives of women and children and save hundreds of lives,” she said.



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