Lilongwe: Government says it will engage concerned and relevant stakeholders in ensuring that health services and education in public institutions are accessible and available for all.
Chief Director of Economic Planning and Development in the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Peter Simbani told journalists on the sidelines of the launch of an Oxfam in Malawi report on ‘Closing the Divide in Malawi: How to Reduce Inequality and Increase Prosperity for All’ that the issue of user fees requires further discussions.
One of the recommendations in the report is for government to strike off user fees in public hospitals and secondary schools in order to make such services available and accessible to all.
Simbani could not give an immediate answer saying there is need to discuss this recommendation by Oxfam with all relevant stakeholders.
Services offered in public hospitals are readily available and as such there is need to engage in discussions with Oxfam in Malawi on the proposed recommendations so that we strike a good balance, he said.
He observed that there is need to do an analysis especially on the user fees in public secondary schools and see its implications.
Presently, students in public secondary schools pay school fees while those in primary school attend for free.
Oxfam International Regional Director for Southern Africa, Nellie Nyang’wa, said Oxfam policy is no user fees in public hospitals so that everybody including the vulnerable are able to access such services.
She observed that user fees in the health sector is undevelopmental as it infringes the right to access health care for all especially for the vulnerable groups.
We have done free primary education and the same can be done with secondary education as well as the health sector. However, the problem with free primary education was the lowering of standards at the time it was introduced, she said.
Oxfam in Malawi Interim Country Director, Lingalireni Mihowa said her organisation already engaged government on the proposal to introduce user fees in district hospitals.
We had fruitful discussions and the response we got was that what will be introduced is bypass fees for those who bypass a health centre and go to a referral centre as a penalty for doing so, she said.
However, he said the issue hasn’t been finalised yet saying there is need to look at better ways of financing the health sector but not user fees.
But Member of Parliament for Dedza East, Juliana Lunguzi has a different view on user fees in health facilities saying free health care is not a reality.
She said in a lot of hospitals people are already paying for the services.
Communities are already paying for health services in hospitals which are accessible in remote areas despite them being Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM) facilities.
Let’s be realistic, almost 75 percent of the budget is donor funded so if we say free health care for all where is government going to get money to finance such activities, she said.
Organisations advocating for the removal of hospital user fees say the proposal contradicts the Universal Health Coverage Policy which recommends that countries should reduce the burden on households when accessing health care.
As part of the ongoing reforms in the Ministry of Health, government in 2015 announced proposals to introduce user fees in district hospitals for those who want to receive special treatment. The proposal was an option for those who can afford to pay.
There are great disparities in the provision of health services in the country a situation which is badly affecting the poor and most vulnerable in the communities.
Source: Malawi News Agency MANA