Tanzania’s minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ummy Mwalimu on Friday April 20 told the parliament that her country was not bound to raising its healthcare budget to keep up with the Abuja Declaration benchmarks but  added that her government would continue investing the little resources it has to attain the signed targets.

“The country has a lot of competing priorities. Right now,  we[as a nation] are focusing on improving infrastructure, ensuring water supply and providing other key services, despite the little resources that are available,” said Ms Mwalimu as she defended why her ministry decided to cut down the healthcare budget by about 19 per cent.

In 2001, Tanzania was among the African Union countries at a conference in Abuja, Nigeria, where member nations pledged to increase their health budget to at least 15% of the state´s annual budget, and requested Western donor countries to increase their support.

However, Ms Mwalimu presented to parliament the budget estimate of Sh898.3billion for the 2018/19 financial year which was lower—by 19 percent—of the Sh1.1trillion that was previously passed by parliament for the 2017/18 financial year, pledging to cut down maternal mortality, improve child health in many regions across the country and prevent Non-Communicable Diseases(NCDs).

She told members of parliament that her ministry’s decision to cut down the budget follows criticisms that were raised by some members of parliament and civil society in the country, when she presented the Sh1.1trillion budget in 2017.

She said, “When I tabled the Sh1.1trillion budget last year, members of parliament challenged me that it was too high, unrealistic and donor dependent. So, this year, we have decided to lower it. Our aim is to now focus on reducing dependency on donor support.”

Read: Proposed health budget ‘unrealistic’

In 2017,  the media in Tanzania quoted the Executive Director of Sikika, a health advocacy NGO, Mr Irenei Kiria, who explained that he (and the Sikika team) had not found the basis to explain why the government decided to increase the health sector budget to such an “unprecedented” amount( of Sh1.1trillion).

“In this proposed health budget [of 2017/18], the government is still promising the same things that have not yet been implemented as per proposals in the past fiscal year,’’ Mr Kiria was quoted as saying.

On Thursday April 19, the Social Services Parliamentary Committee tabled a report in parliament showing that the ministry had also failed to meet the targets for the 2017/18 financial year.

The Committee chairman, Mr Serukamba said that only 57 percent of the Sh1.1trilloin for the current financial year had been disbursed to the ministry by the end of February 2018.

The committee further raised concerns that the proposals for the 2018/19 were also inadequate, as per the benchmarks set by the Abuja Declarations.

However, the minister responded in parliament, saying “the Abuja Declaration is not binding the country to raise the health budget to 15 per cent.” We did our research and found out not many countries have been able to make the 15% budgetary allocation. It’s only one country, that I know, which has been able to attain that budget,’’ she noted.

By 2014, only 4 countries had succeeded in reaching the set target; The Gambia, Malawi, Swaziland and Ethiopia, according to the World Health Organization.

The Minister’s budget was finally passed by parliament. However, she assured the House that her docket had increased domestic funding from Sh628 billion in the current fiscal year to Sh681billion for next financial year, 2018/19.

“We have reduced dependency on foreign funding. We want to assess ourselves on what we can do in situations when donors walk out,’’ she said.

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