HARARE – Vice president and health minister Constantino Chiwenga has announced the government will ban overseas medical flights for all Zimbabweans, saying the trips are bleeding the country of scarce foreign currency.
Chiwenga – who flew by private jet to India, South Africa and China over the last year and spent months receiving treatment – made the announcement on Monday as he unveiled a programme to reform the health sector.
Chiwenga’s last trip to China was in July this year for a “routine medical review.”
He said Zimbabwean doctors would be barred from referring patients to institutions outside the country under the plans.
Doctors and nurses at public hospitals have been on strike for over two months demanding better pay, and many wards are closed. It remains unclear how the plan will work with most hospitals lacking basic equipment and drugs after years of government under investment in the health sector.
“We will not export our patients. We will not make referrals (to foreign medical facilities) for our patients. It’s everybody,” Chiwenga told journalists at his New Munhumutapa government offices.
“Ministers are only about 20 but those who have been going out it’s you, you, me, altogether. That export bill was too high and that’s what we want to curtail. We want to do away with that, and it requires us to carry out restructuring from the village health worker right up to the quaternary hospital.”
Chiwenga took over the dual role as health minister last month, after Obadiah Moyo was sacked following his arrest over alleged Covid-19 procurement corruption.
One of his first moves was to immediately fire all hospital CEOs who are not medical doctors, and also suspend all directors in the ministry of health. He also ordered hospitals to terminate all supplier contracts.
He did not say how the reforms would be funded, although he made casual reference to substituting the bill for importing drugs and medical equipment with “healthcare-related innovations or import substitutions.”
Chiwenga said the government would be announcing housing and vehicle loans as part of conditions of service for health workers while promising a “health specific allowance” which he hopes will convince doctors and nurses to call off their job boycott.
“We expect all grievances to be resolved amicably through discussion without endangering patients’ lives,” he added.