By OSKAR WERMTER
The poor are more likely to fall ill and remain ill. They can’t pay doctors, hospital treatment and medicines. In past ages the Church provided hospices for the chronically ill. Sometimes well to do merchants provided in their last wills and testaments for the foundation and upkeep of hospitals. The poverty of religious and the free service rendered by monks and nuns, later members of orders and congregations entirely dedicated to nursing and healthcare made it possible to give medical care even to the poor.
Governments eventually took over and set up national health insurance schemes and a network of state hospitals where treatment was free (and still is!)or at least much reduced and well below cost. Socialist governments tended to favour such schemes, but in recent decades reached the limit of what public health institutions can do. The nursing orders of the Catholic Church have shrunk or disappeared altogether.
Church hospitals had to close or work so closely with government that they have largely lost their independence and special character as Christian institutions owned and managed by the Church for the benefit of the not so well-off. Or they have become elite healthcare institutions for the elite. While government as well as church hospitals tried to be accessible to the ordinary people for the benefit of everybody, there is now a tendency to commercialise hospitals and healthcare institutions. Both government and church have sold their hospitals to private companies whose ethos is very different from the moral outlook of their predecessors.
In Britain they have the National Health Service (NHS) which gives medical care for free. It is limited in what it can do. People complain that patients wait for many months if they need a life-saving operation.
Such a free health service is possible only if the country flourishes economically and the government receives enough revenue through taxation to be able to finance a national health service and/or a health insurance. Our health budget is too low at present, 11 % only. It should be at least 15 %, if not more. Can we find those funds by reducing the military budget?
Our Constitution (n. 29) demands that the State provides “basic, accessible and adequate health services throughout Zimbabwe”. At the moment this does not happen. The conflict between government and medical staff has not yet been resolved. This must become a government priority. Healthcare must be given to the entire population, not just to political friends, just as food aid must be given without discrimination.