IT is not necessarily surprising that there are currently 400 children waiting to be evacuated abroad for specialist medical treatment.
The case is obvious because there are only two brain surgeons in Zambia based at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, supported with one retired doctor who is on call.
Though there is already a programme where specialist medical staff are being trained, this rather sad state-of-affairs is a wakeup call for the Ministry of Health to double efforts to train more doctors to attend to patients requiring specialist health care.
Today Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya says there are 400 children awaiting evacuation for the treatment of cardiac, renal and neurosurgical problems.
Dr Chilufya said this in Lusaka after witnessing the signing of a US$100 million financing agreement between the Government of Zambia and the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) for the construction of the 800-bed capacity King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Specialised Hospital.
The King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Specialised Hospital, which would be constructed within three years, would also enable Zambia attract and enhance medical tourists and strengthen human capital development.
The hospital would enable specialists to be trained locally and for the region, which gives confidence from the highest political office that the facility avails tall impact investment in health, with potential to strengthen Zambia's health systems.
With Zambia and Saudi Arabia sharing vital bilateral cooperation in areas such as health, road, agriculture and energy sectors, the health project has resulted from the much-criticised presidential trips, especially by opponents of Government.
In 2016, President Lungu met King Abdulaziz in Saudi Arabia on an official State visit.
The financing agreement for the project has truly endorsed the engagement betweenPresident Lungu and King Abdulaziz.
As Zambians, we are grateful for the continued support from Saudi Arabia.
The project will, no doubt, help the Government achieve its health targets and contribute to socio-economic development.
Government should moot out other programmes to facilitate improving the health sector, which will help catapult the national economy to higher heights of excellence.
Without a health nation, that is the workforce driving various economic sectors of the country, it will be a glossy fallacy to expect the nation to score sustainable national development.
In the same vein, Government should strive to ensure that efficient health care and delivery was equitably extended to benefit rural dwellers, like was the case in peri-and-urban areas.
Availability of medicines in hospital should become a thing of the past considering that the country attained independence from its colonial masters about five decades ago.
Plans to construct the 800-bed capacity King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Specialised Hospital is long overdue when we consider the swelling of the population, which cannot be accommodated in the country's largest current hospitals built in the colonial era.
This development is welcome as it will reduce pressure on local health facilities failing to attend to patients in need of specialist treatment for various ailments and in the process this initiative will help save lives, especially those from low-income households.
Finance Minister Felix Mutati signed on behalf of the Government while SFD was represented by its vice-chairperson Yousef Al-Bassam.
Saudi Export Programme director general Ahmed Al-Ghannam and Development Bank of Zambia managing director Jacob Lushinga also signed a $5 million-worth export credit support agreement thereafter considering that Government sends children requiring specialist treatment to India at a huge cost because Zambia had an infrastructure deficit to offer reproductive and child health services.
And for those patients coming from poor backgrounds, they invariably fall off because of limited financial capacity to meet the exorbitant medical expenses.
As Dr Chilufya puts it, with the completion of this facility, we will be able to handle all those cases (cardiac, renal and eurosurgical) locally.