Health sector on its knees: Are donors the panacea?

East African Women in Perspective

February 2, 2018

By Anne Kiruku

East African News Agency, Arusha

The health challenges facing East Africa are almost insurmountable – malaria, HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, maternal and child health complications, and non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancers that are killing thousands.

The upcoming 4th East African Community (EAC) Heads of State Retreat on Infrastructure and Health Financing and Development could not, therefore, have come at a more opportune time.

During the retreat, the 1st EAC Summit on Investment in Health, Health Sector Investors and Donor Round Table and International Exhibition will be also held. The two events lay bare the region’s overdependence on donor funding for its development agenda.

It is a fact that all EAC partner states are among the low and middle-income countries. Epidemic and pandemic diseases related to globalisation, trade and climate change have brought the region’s health sector to its knees. Yet, there is little by way of resources to fight these diseases.

To enable the region to successfully wage war against the myriad challenges in the health sector, donor funding; it is therefore unfortunate that the health sector has lately been in the news for all the wrong reasons – from misuse of donor funding to high level corruption. Indeed, the rate at which money has been lost in the sector is baffling.

As the misappropriation of donor funding goes on unabated, citizens are dying in droves as others seek specialised treatment in India, South Africa, and Western countries.

The region has become a dumping ground for drugs banned in other regions due to their negative effects, making a bad situation worse.

Inexcusably, the culprits of high level corruption in our midst are never prosecuted for lack of sufficient evidence, showing either a lack of commitment or inability to root out corruption from the sector.

L-R: Vice President of Burundi, Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, John Magufuli of Tanzania, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and President of Zanzibar Ali Mohammed Shein, at a past Heads of State Summit in Arusha, Tanzania. PHOTO | AGENCY

It is insincere for partner states to seek further donor funding one year after another, yet what they have in their coffers is misappropriated and ends up in a few people’s pockets.

This is sheer abuse of donor goodwill, not to speak of insensitivity to the plight of their countrymen and women.

A key challenge the region faces is lack of formal training in foreign aid management, budgeting and accounting. Lack of such crucial skills has led to a poor understanding of donor expenditure protocols. This results in ineligible expenditures, leading to suspension of further funding by donors.

Lack of accountability and full transparency regarding the purpose, content, responsibility and performance of a development agency has also led to cancellation of donor funding in the region.

In the recent past, all EAC partner states have had their donor funding suspended over claims of siphoning of funds meant for development projects.

It is crucial for the region to set up mechanisms to stop this rising theft, not only to safeguard donor funds, but also taxpayers’ money.

Even as the region develops means of increasing donor funding for its many infrastructural and other development agendas, it is critical to ensure self-reliance.

The region cannot achieve this with the rampant theft of public funds. Ensuring public funds are well appropriated and all loopholes sealed is important in fighting corruption.

The region must be serious in prosecuting those accused of theft of public money. Hardly is there anyone accused of corruption who is successfully prosecuted and made to face the full force of the law. This shows a lack of commitment on the part of governments.

Regional partner states must now take charge of their own development processes so that they can be able to perpetuate, sustain and enhance their own paths of action instead of relying so heavily on donors.

President John Magufuli’s surprise visit to Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. PHOTO | DAILY NEWS

Mobilising communities to set and achieve their own goals, as well as empowering women and girls, is key to ensuring self-reliance in the health sector.

Improving land productivity – which is the major means of production for a majority of the citizens – will go a long way in reducing the incidence of poverty, further promoting self-reliance.

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