Some civil society organisations (CSOs) in Malawi have expressed concern over dwindling levels of funding to the health sector which they fear if left unchecked could push it out of government’s priority.
But Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume yesterday played down the fears, saying the health sector is perhaps the largest recipient of donor support in the country.
The CSOs’ concerns are contained in a press statement on Poor Service Delivery in Public Health Sector Aggravated by Low Budgetary Allocation released yesterday in Lilongwe.
The statement has been signed by seven CSOs, including Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) executive director Gift Trapence, Malawi Network of People Living with HIV and Aids (Manet+) executive director Safari Mbewe, Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living with HIV and Aids (Manarela) executive director David Kamkwamba and Malawi Sex Workers Alliance executive director Lucy Majawa.
The statement, which analyses the public health budget, highlights that over the past five years, spending on health sector has averaged around 10 percent, representing a reduction from 12 percent in the 2012/13 financial year and was much better at more than 15 percent in 2011/12 when Malawi was one of only six African countries to have passed the 15 percent mark of national budgets that the continent’s leaders committed to providing to the sector in the 2001 Abuja Declaration.
In the 2016/17 financial year, the health sector budget is seven percentage points or around 40 percent below the other two sectors getting the highest allocations, notably agriculture and education with each getting 17 percent of total government expenditure.
Reads the statement in part: “It is clear, however, from budget analyses that Malawi has fallen short on both its domestic and international obligations when it comes to the health budget. This failure to meet its financing obligations has had devastating impacts on Malawi’s public health system with service delivery at historic lows.
“There are now widespread drug stock-outs in hospitals, medical equipment is poor while health personnel remains too low—at 50 percent vacancy rate—to meet rising demand for public health services.”
The statement further says the per capita movements of the health budget for government to provide basic health care, means government must spend a minimum of $86 per person (K62 780).
In an interview yesterday, Kumpalume said that while the ministry can do more with increased funding, it is currently getting enough considering the current economic situation.
He said: “To suggest that health may drop out of the priority list for the Government of Malawi is scare mongering. It won’t happen. Secondly, the ministry is perhaps the largest recipient of donor support in the country.
“Our budget, therefore, is not just 10 percent of GDP [gross domestic product]. It is much more than that. You need to compare allocation to the health sector as a ratio of GDP and compare Malawi to the rest of Africa. You will be pleasantly surprised that we are doing much more than a lot of countries.”
Kumpalume said the country receives the third largest allocation in the budget after agriculture and education.
However, chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on Health, Julian Lunguzi, said while it is not surprising to register such concerns, this presents a reflection of not looking into the bigger picture.
According to the statement, even the current HIV National Strategic Plan for the period 2015-2020 has serious financing gaps with the total budget over the period projected at $498.8 million(K364 billion) and only 46 percent ($258.4 million or K197 billion) of the estimated resources are available.
Deus Banda, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on HIV, Aids and Nutrition, said that while they are equally concerned with the overreliance on foreign donors, they are trying to address the situation by among other things learning from counterparts in other countries such as Zimbabwe. n