BENJAMIN Mkapa Foundation (BMF) has constructed nearly 500 houses as part of an effort to help address a chronic shortage of staff quarters for health professionals across the country.
While the country’s health sector faces a serious shortage of health providers, estimated at 52 per cent, the providers themselves are grappling with insufficient accommodation. Reliable data show that the ratio of doctor/ patient in Tanzania stands at 1:78,880 for rural areas compared to 1:9,095 in urban centres.
As the health sector requires at least 145,454 workers to add-up to the existing 70,244 professionals, observers say one of the reason for shortage of doctors in rural areas is the working environment. Housing problems are among the reasons inspiring many doctors to work at private hospitals, mostly located in urban places.
World Health Organization and researchers have suggested that poor housing conditions are associated with a wide range of health conditions, including respiratory infections, asthma, lead poisoning, injuries, and mental health.
Speaking at the handing over ceremony of 30 houses in Kigoma recently, BMK Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Ellen Mkondya- Senkoro said the foundation built 480 houses across the country. “The Mkapa Foundation built two modern houses per every health centre,” she said.
“Living quarters for hospital workers have been a major problem for decades. Addressing housing issues offers public health practitioners an opportunity to address an important social determinant of health,” she says.
The public health community has grown increasingly aware of the importance of social determinants of health including housing, but it remains unfortunate to health professionals especially in rural and remote areas. This year alone, the foundation also inaugurated 20 similar houses in Arusha and 10 others in Tanga Region for local medical workers.
The Foundation was permitted by the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children to build the facilities in 51 councils across the Mainland. Initially, it allocated 50bn/- for 700 houses.
The project was to be carried out in 70 districts between 2011 and 2016. Since its inception, eleven years ago, the Foundation has trained and hired nearly 800 medical workers and posted them to remote areas of the country .
In Kigoma for instance, three-bedroom apartments were built in Kibondo, Kasulu and Kigoma Urban councils. “Each house costs around 58.7m/-,” she noted. “The facilities were either connected to national electric supply company or solar energy depending on the location,” Dr Senkoro noted.
“We’re complimenting government efforts to improve health sector in the country.” To date there is no clear information on the magnitude of shortage of houses for health workers but Health Minister Ms Ummy Mwalimu says the government was working to address the problem.
She admitted that such a problem had multiple effect on the living standard and economic prosperity. “Worse still, these are people whom the public expect would set example in health and hygiene. We will ensure they have access to modern housing,” she said in the National Assembly.
The Minister maintained however that the problem is too far from being addressed considering the pace of hiring new health providers. Citing Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Science (Muhas) newly constructed college at Mloganzila in Dar es Salaam, the facility would need some 1,400 health workers. At least 263 staff will be needed when the stateof- the-art facility opens later this year. This means more than 200 houses will be needed adding up to the number of structures needed for the health sector alone.
Kigoma Regional Commissioner (RC) Brigadier Gen (retired) Emmanuel Maganga expressed gratitude to BMF and to sponsors, The Global Fund for helping address the problem that had turned to be a nightmare to many health care workers in rural areas.
“These structures will be in use right from now as we expect more professionals who had no interest in working in rural areas today would have all the reason to smile,” he said. The 30 buildings in Kigoma according to the RC cost 1.7bn/-. “These buildings are a game-changer to all health providers.
This will add-up to morale to improve health service provision,” Tanga Region Medical Officer Dr Asha Mahita said. The office of the President (Regional Administration and Local Governments) reported last year it was planning to recruit 10,780 health professionals. This means more housing will also be needed for such a big number.