March 2014 TheTimesofZambia ; A SEGMENT of mankind enjoys better health today than the past generations. But better health does not mean the best health. Sickness still exacts a heavy toll. Just the fear of getting sick brings great anxiety. And the harsh reality is that even in this modern age, no one can fully escape the onslaught of physical and mental maladies.
The old African adage that says ‘no matter how colorful or beautiful the coffin might be, it will never attract anyone to wish for death’ speaks volumes on how ingredients of life should be treasured than the mare possession of gold and silver.
This suffices to say that all wealth without health is meaningless. Therefore, it does not make medical sense to uplift our health institution by building a modern car parking port, planting flowers or putting modern doors at the expense of lack of essential drugs, bed linen, bed space, medical gloves and other necessities that help sustain life.
A good point of argument would be that we need to be moving forward but should it be at the expense of our dignity? Well, in this article we try to explore some reasons as to why in Africa we continue to be having ‘white Elephants’ that don’t make economic sovereign sense with much emphasis on achieving golden health fifty (50) years after independence.
Golden health in this context is a comparative standard of a champion that has worn a gold medal of coming out victorious in colonisation race for self-leadership in Africa and the state of development of its health sector 50 years after independence.
The burden of ill health has many faces. One that is of great concern today is the soaring financial cost of illness. For instance, millions of workdays are being lost in Africa because of health problems. The situation is similar elsewhere. Reduced productivity at the workplace, together with the increasing cost of health care, creates a financial burden that affects all.
Business corporations and governments pay a price. Some companies even threaten to mechanise its workforce in order to shed off on human labour, a vice that increases unemployment levels. Though the health force cannot be mechanised,a disproportionate patient to Doctor or Nurse Ratios may be employed causing work over load.
This is in order to offset costs, hence, businesses raise the price of their products and governments increase taxation which we unfornately pay. The need for a healthy work force is inevitable as its effect may also be noticeable at micro and macro level. It may surprise you to learn that in the new scramble for Africa dominated by countries from the east, there have been a lot of infringement on workers’ rights ranging from mere turning done of promotion of people known to be HIV positive to firing workers that accumulate sick-offs that do not necessitate a medical discharge.
To become sick when working for these firms owned by these draconian investors becomes a crime and many mostly casual workers that they prefer as employs lose their jobs. Unfortunately national leaders and human resource personnel’s with a condition known as ‘useful idiocy syndrome’ sweep this under the carpet and no legal actions are commenced against such mischief.
Like many African politicians who turn out to be professional buffoons in quest to save their interest, they continue to turn a blind eye and ear to the suffering of masses at the hands of these investors who even fail to give a descent health policy that facilitates for proper medical cover.
Sad to say, the poor usually find it difficult to obtain adequate health care, if any at all. In our African continent that is the tragic plight of millions who have either limited access or no access to professional health services. Even in wealthy countries, some have to struggle to benefit from the good medical care available.
This is often the case with many of people in our beloved continent that do not have proper health insurance that guarantees world class standardised services. Medical insurance is essential for assurance of better health if the finances realised are constantly re-invested in the same field but cash-strapped Africa cannot cope with its medical problems.
The burden of illness is not just financial. The ultimate price we pay is the anguish of suffering a terminal disease, the agony of enduring chronic pain, the sadness of seeing others who are seriously ill, and the despair of experiencing the loss of a loved
For instance, it is in countries from Africa that we find a long waiting list for months or years for clients that need special treatment from other medically advanced nations but political leaders manage to have expedited appointments for special attention for conditions like flu, diarrhea, asthmatic attack, hemorrhoids, knee arthritis, Viagra overdose and other simple maladies.
It is in the same Africa where the medical history of an ailment of a leader is dramatised or politicised when such leaders have shown stable health state at all angles with vigor to deliver on development promises.
Speculations are even worse when such leaders seek only specialised treatment from outside when local medical personnel may offer better if well organised.
The ray of hope of appreciating local medical services is dwindled even further as politicians raise security concerns for seeking outside treatment which has proved to be very expensive. The need to upgrade our medical system to acquire technologies that necessitates outside treatment is also hampered.
The altitude to deliver only when in private set up than when in public is also an issue that has not been adequately addressed to improve the health delivery system.
The hope of someday living in a world without sickness is most appealing. Africa and the whole world at large want good health! Many believe that as fantastic as it may sound, such a hope is real. There are some who are convinced that through man-made technology, in time, virtually all disease and sickness will be eradicated.
On the other hand, those who put faith in the Bible believe that God will cause its ancient prophecies about a world without sickness to be fulfilled.
However, in many countries of the world, the rapid population growth contributes to a lower standard of living and inadequate capacity to manage medical challenges that comes with over population. Housing, jobs, schools, and even food production just can’t keep pace with the ever-increasing demand.
Zambia, for example, because of its burgeoning population, needs to create more than 50,000 jobs a year just to keep its unemployment rate from rising. In many African countries the rapidly growing population is made worse by a migration to the cities that has led to a tripling of food imports and has contributed to the decline in living standards during the last decade.
Some despairing fathers, unable to find jobs and provide for their large families, have just deserted them or have even committed suicide. On the other hand, overpopulation affects the health sector from managing its communities very well as it increases competition for medical services hence creating artificial shortages.
Malnutrition is also another vice that is becoming a common trend because of overpopulation though the patterns is mostly under nourishment among the poor and over nourishment among the rich. Poor housing is a big healthy determinant factor as communicable diseases flourish in houses with poor ventilation. Poor data management of health statistics make it even more difficult to manage the trend of the problem model that the industry is facing.
Since economic forecasting is also a notoriously inexact science there is a simultaneous gross mismanagement of donor funded projects.
Perhaps, this may be evident in a number of mushrooming orphanage and friend to the street children programmes that are mostly western donor funded projects but since there are few donors offering to care for the mentally retarded or schizophrenia patients less energies have been invested into such projects to an extent that you may think it’s not a problem affecting the continent.
The problem is that even in advanced economies it is difficult for experts to avail such data whilst in Third World economies comprising Africa mostly, such specific data is either unavailable or it is practically impossible to get without any donor aid to motivate the statistics collectors.
And even if economists could agree on the exact nature of the problems, they would doubtless prescribe different solutions, according to their own political or social viewpoints. To complicate matters further, the politicians, who make the final decisions, tend to heed only the economic advice that they find palatable or would woo them votes.
Our street and communities are now dotted with either violent or unkempt patients with mental disturbances which our psychiatry wings can’t accommodate. At the bottom of our problems may not only be economic reasons but rather the fact that we are stymied by our lack of political consensus. We do not even agree on the nature of our economic difficulties.
Each country tends to pursue its own sovereign interests regardless of the effect on others judging by industrialisbation of some of the most developed countries that contribute a large percentage to global warming effects. Nevertheless, Africa receives economic aid in form of sophisticated military equipment from these developed countries which we fail to effectively maintain leading to either rapid depreciation of such machinery or accidents in which unfortunately lives of our bread winners are lost.
Another leaf to learn from is the type of automobiles (cars) that Africa continues to receive which are tagged second hand or rejects in developed countries as they are a menace to its users as mechanical faults are likely to be the cause of accidents though human error is mostly seen as leading cause of accidents.
Evidently, the donor country’s motives are economic or political rather than humanitarian. Tariff barriers put up by rich industrial countries to protect their own producers hamper the efforts of poorer countries to sell even basic commodities. Western donor aid programmes have financed grandiose technological projects that recipient nations have been unable to keep in repair.
These expensive, impractical “white elephants” litter the economic landscape of poorer countries like luxurious airports from which planes only rarely depart, a state-of-the-art bakery that can’t produce bread for lack of flour, a gigantic cement factory that constantly breaks down for lack of maintenance. Sometimes governments of the Third World have saddled themselves with enormous debts due to lavish spending on extravagant projects.
Therefore, underdeveloped countries criticise international banking institutions for being concerned only about prompt interest repayments. Some projects have to be abandoned for lack of financial backing, simply because they will not produce quick returns for the lender. The high interest rates that these debtor nations now have to pay are mainly due to profligate spending by other nations much wealthier than they are.
Presidents of some African and Asian countries have been accused of embezzling billions of dollars. These huge amounts of money are usually siphoned off programmes intended to improve the lot of the ordinary people.
Endemic corruption at all levels seriously undermines the economies of countless nations, placing an added financial burden on the impoverished majorities who have to subsidise it. From Belgrade to Buenos Aires, from Lagos to Lima, from Manila to Mexico City, and from Washington, D.C., to Wellington, governments struggle against inflation. Sometimes the governments themselves are in sore financial straits.
Our economy is global and the idea that a solution can be unilateral in a global economy is nonsense. For example, a recession in Western countries is soon transmitted to poorer countries, who find that there is no longer a demand for their products. Generally speaking, the poorer the country, the less influence it has on the overall economic climate, but the more vulnerable it is to unfavorable economic winds.
During the last global recession of 2008 to 2009, the presumed essential workers from medical field were retrenched and medical service adversely affected with the worst economic rationing of medical supplies that endangered most professionals in the field. The untold short courses of antibiotics were commonly prescribed to extent of posing drug resistant bacteria. If lessons were drawn, the poorest of nations in Africa would take a different turn to see that such could not repeat itself but a lot of companies are being opened with little or no contribution to the health sector since governments are subsidising the cost of such service through our tax payers hence a need has still not been realised.
The health sector continues to be over whelmed by an increased number of people seeking medical services but a turnover of people joining the profession to work locally continues to dwindle because of poor salaries and lack of standardised safe medical supplies for use.
Movement struggles and strike have taken place to push for better conditions of services but all rarely yield desired results. The magnitude to which the health personnel sacrifice their time to duty deserves much to be commended and their struggle movement for a motivated work force should not result in firing them or used for political expedience but be given a listening ear from its government. What should be born in mind is that professions dominated by women are so much oppressed by its management which is mostly Manish by nature.
If we were to take a profession dominated by men like security personnel, it should not take a coup to communicate dissatisfaction but Government responsibility to ensure essential workers are well taken care of than waiting for a strike to receive a paradoxical response in ‘Red ink’.
The health profession if well harnessed can contribute a great deal to economic growth and reduce the cost of living crisis by highlighting on indicator that promotes better health. For instance, cynical commercial greed also contributes to the cost-of-living crisis.
The aggressive marketing techniques of multinational tobacco companies have succeeded in persuading millions of poverty-stricken people to spend what little cash they have on cigarettes. In some developing lands, health-threatening, high-tar cigarettes are widely distributed, and most customers are unaware of the health hazard. Valuable agricultural land has been turned over to tobacco cultivation due to the lure of vital foreign exchange, which often does not materialize. Meanwhile smoking-related diseases increase at par with the rising cost of living.
This brief review of the reasons behind the cost-of-living crisis and challenges of golden health in a golden jubilee suffices to show the daunting challenge facing governments who strive to better the economic plight of their citizens. The need for better health cannot be over emphasised as the current system needs a face lift to effectively compete with other western nations in assurance for better health services.
If we are to prudently deliver on beneficial lifesaving technologies in our health institutions we need to draw our targets well unlike the current trend of only uplifting the administration block with air ventilators and providing a crate of soft drinks for the director every day when our patients are constantly serviced with a poor diet and not even to talk about the non-health friendly ward environmental conditions.
As a continent we shall not enjoy true emancipation of independence if we cannot own up for our economic deficits. Let’s learn to invest our energies in developmental issues if we want ‘paradise ‘in Africa unlike always pointing to the white man for our misfortune.
It is important we become a united force than preaching succession which will just breed anarchy. In our anatomy there is no part that is Lozi, Tonga, French, Portuguese, Chinese or English but we all have white brains hence health of any human being should be treasured and given the best opportunities there is to offer whether locally or internationally.
Politicians may have a shelve life but we still need to attain some direction in development so that we are not used as guinea pigs for polluted western ideas like promotion of homosexuality, legalising of prostitution, indiscriminate abortions with no proper medical support among other vices that might be tied to the aid we so much need when necessary. Let’s therefore renew Africa with what we can possibly bring to the table in this global village.