Maputo — Contrary to claims that the Mozambican national health service is suffering from a massive exodus of staff, in fact less than one per cent of the staff leave the service annually of their own initiative.
Health Minister Nazira Abdula gave this figure to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Wednesday, answering a question from the main opposition party, the rebel movement Renamo, which depicted a health service in crisis, as its workers jumped ship for the greener pastures of the private sector.
Abdula replied that, between 2010 and 2017, the number of workers leaving was, on average 0.8 per cent. This was massively outweighed by the annual training of around 5,000 new health professionals.
The growth in the number of health professionals was clear from the fact that in 2005 there were 1,651 inhabitants for each health worker, but this ratio fell to 929 to one in 2017 (a reduction of 43.7 per cent).
In 2014, there were 1,500 public health units in the country, Abdula said, but by December 2017 the number had risen to 1,626. Over this period, the proportion of births that took place in health units rose from 72 to 83 per cent, and the number of children fully vaccinated rose from 83 to 87 per cent.
Renamo painted a picture of generalised theft of medicines and equipment from the health service. Abdula admitted there is a problem, but it is not general. She said that in 2017 three cases of outright theft and 32 of the illicit sale of medicines were notified. In the case of illicit sales, 24 health workers had faced disciplinary and criminal proceedings.
Measures had been taken to guarantee the security of medicines, she added, including the distribution to all provinces of 37 containerised vehicles which provide appropriate conditions for the safe transport of medicines. The packaging of medicines for use in public health units now contains the words "For the Exclusive Use of the National Health Service", making it difficult for them to be stolen without detection.
Abdula believed that thefts are the work "of a very small number of professionals, and we shall continue to show no tolerance towards them".
The Minister added that inspections of 54 private health units last year exposed a range of abuses. Some of the private clinics were operating with no licence or with expired licences. Some employed doctors or other health workers who had invalid professional licences. There were cases where workers from the public health service moonlighted in private clinics, but without the due authorisation.
In two clinics medicines stolen from the public service were identified. After the inspections, four of these private health units were closed down, and 24 others were fined.