Why Govt must act on cost of blood
Though the unit of blood, which is 250ml, was last year reduced to $100 from $135 in Government hospitals and costs $125 on average in private institutions, it remains too high and unaffordable to many Zimbabweans. What is, however, baffling is that the same amount of blood costs far less in neighbouring countries
THE high cost of blood remains one of the major barriers to ordinary Zimbabweans accessing and enjoying their health entitlements and rights as enshrined in the country’s constitution, which stipulates that health is a right.
Faced by economic challenges and high unemployment, Zimbabwe continues to lose precious lives daily due to the steep cost of blood, which remains beyond the reach of many people.
The increasing number of people who are dying in public hospitals because they cannot afford to buy blood is worrying.
Equally worrying is that families have no choice, but to dispose of their priced possessions for a song to save the lives of their loved ones.
Zimbabwe faces a high demand for blood transfusion due to bleeding related to pregnancy and childbirth, high traffic accidents and other types of injuries.
However, the most affected are pregnant women, who require the life-saving commodity.
About half a million pregnancies are expected in Zimbabwe and some of these come with excessive blood loss, requiring transfusion of at least three pints. Timely blood transfusion prevents maternal deaths which in Zimbabwe stands at 614 women per 100 000 live births.
For donating blood, donors only enjoy a drink and biscuit. However, it is also not a guarantee that if you are a blood donor you get blood at no cost when you need it.
The National Blood Services Zimbabwe (NBSZ) and the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) should urgently devise sustainable ways of ensuring that the cost of blood is affordable so that the ordinary person is not denied his/her basic right to health.
This may include lobbying for subsidies from government and or inviting donors to chip in.
Though the unit of blood, which is 250ml, was last year reduced to $100 from $135 in Government hospitals and costs $125 on average in private institutions, it remains too high and unaffordable to many Zimbabweans.
What is, however, baffling is that the same amount of blood costs far less in neighbouring countries. For example, a pint of blood costs $50 in Zambia and $42 in Malawi, which is less than half of what it costs in Zimbabwe.
Other than affordability, there is also a problem with accessibility. A bottleneck analysis that was carried out by the Ministry of Health and Child Care shows that 60 percent of secondary facilities were found to have no blood in their stocks.
Some facilities could not stock blood because of unavailability of fridges, electricity and general poor infrastructure. It is, therefore, paramount for the Government to consider other alternatives such as solar refrigerators for storing blood products.
To turn around the fortunes of NBSZ, which currently operates as a non-profit making company and whose funding is based on cost recovery fees, it should shed that status to be able to attract donors, a situation that would result in reduced blood costs.
Blood shortage is a national issue and should by all means attract the interest of donors, especially at this point in time when the country is experiencing economic challenges.
It cannot be left to be managed by a non-profit making company that has a board of directors.
CWGH believes in universal access to health services that includes accessibility of blood without restricting the principle of good governance and accountability, which we believe must be the most important criterion by which NBSZ performance is assessed.
However, reports of alleged poor governance and alleged poor accountability within the institution of NBSZ, alleged corporate tags that drive away potential donors, are worrying.
It is also worrying that issues of governance and accountability continue to crop up once the name NBSZ is mentioned.
There is need to set limits of term of office for board members as well as set out clear parameters of their duties to avoid interference in the day-to-day operations of the institution, a move that prevents smooth execution of work by management.
The board must have a functional constitution and only people of professional integrity must sit on the board.
It is unacceptable and unheard of in the normal corporate world that a person can chair the board for 38 years, as if he has messianic abilities and the only competent person that has lived on earth.
There is need for curriculum vitae, employment and service history of board members to be made public. No board members fired, or who resign from mainstream boards should be allowed to sit in the NBSZ board without due diligence being made that they are clean.
Presently, there are no term limits, no skills mix, no direct election of board members from the blood donors; no clear policies that define board members’ duties and no board charter and the sitting allowances should be abolished and replaced with a basic token of appreciation.
Representation in the board must also reflect the current gender and racial dynamics in the country. Out of the 17 board members, there are no females save for one female CEO.
To attract donors to fund the institution, the financial books and accounting procedures of NBSZ should be public matter. Furthermore, the auditors should be changed at stipulated intervals for accountability reasons.
The grants that NBSZ receives from the Government should be accounted for to ensure that potential donors gain confidence in the institution.
Parliament and MoHCC should also play pivotal oversight roles to make sure that recommendations of the Auditor-General are implemented for the improvement of governance and accountability purposes as well as for the benefit of ordinary Zimbabweans, who cannot afford the cost of blood.
The NBSZ urgently needs a structural and operational overhaul, so that it can respond to the tenets of good governance and accountability for the benefit of ordinary Zimbabweans.
In this regard, the MoHCC should urgently institute investigations into the operations of NBSZ and make recommendations that promote proper operations to avoid preventable and unnecessary loss of lives.