THE death of the fifth phase President Dr John Magufuli has left Tanzanians in disbelief, especially when they recall his deep affection to the country. His ambition to transform the country prompted his government to undertake various development projects and institute changes that have brought tangible results to the nation.
During his five years of his administration, the country recorded tremendous achievements in various sectors, including health. The late Dr Magufuli has been described as an iconic leader and a statesman who did much for the country and who always desired nothing but the best for his country and Africa.
Immediately after he assumed office in 2015, President Magufuli made a surprise visit to Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) where he was disappointed and saddened by the state of medical service delivery.
He, however, issued several directives to the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children and its institutions, to chart out plans that would transform the health sector, including introduction of specialised services which were not available in the country.
The fifth phase government therefore invested heavily in the country’s health sector, to enhance availability of not only routine health services, but also specialised healthcare, hence positioning Tanzania as a healthcare hub for medical tourism. In one of his addresses, President Magufuli said that the government was investing heavily in modern health equipment and services and recruiting medical staff in order to save foreign exchange earnings and promote medical tourism.
He was ambitious to see Tanzania becoming a medical tourism destination. In the past five years, the health sector annual budget increased by 15.7 per cent. In 2015/2016 financial year, the budget for the sector was 780.7bn/-, but during the five years of the fifth phase government, it stood at an average of 905bn/-.
The government’s commitment has been vividly borne out by increasing the health budget to improve access to medical drugs, facilitate the construction of health facilities countrywide and introduction of specialised services which have trimmed the number of Tanzanians seeking treatment overseas by more than 95 per cent.
Currently, the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) offers a number of specialised services, such as kidney transplant which has so far benefited several patients. The national health facility is providing the services at a low cost compared to charges incurred when the patients are referred abroad. It costs 30m/- for a patient receiving the service in the country, while those referred abroad have to pay 120m/-.
The national hospital is also providing other specialised services such as cochlear implant interventional radiology and plans are also underway to introduce bone marrow transplant in June this year. The fifth phase government also recorded notable achievements in cardiovascular services by investing in advanced equipment that enabled the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac institute (JKCI) to handle complicated cases which were being referred abroad.
Currently, JKCI serves patients from across all the regions in Mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar, who are referred from regional referral and designated district hospitals for tertiary level cardiovascular medical care. It also receives patients from neighbouring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Comoro, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and Burundi.
The Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI) has also continued to strengthen its services after installing modern equipment for cancer diagnosis and treatment. According to the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, the availability of essential medicines at the institute has helped a lot to cut down the number of referrals abroad from 164 patients in 2015/2016 to two in 2019/2020.
Executive Director of the ORCI, Dr Julius Mwaiselage said that the fifth phase government had invested a lot in cancer diagnosis and treatment at the institute. In 2018/19, the government invested about 9.4bn/- in purchasing modern machines for cancer treatment, mainly chemotherapy.
Currently, the ORCI has about 60 machines providing chemotherapy treatment to patients. Modern equipment has enabled the institute to serve up to 300 patients who need chemotherapy daily. On the other hand, medicines for leading types of cancers are currently available by 100 per cent.
This was a result of increased budget for cancer drugs from 770m/- in 2015/16 to the current 10bn/-. According to Muhimbili Orthopaedic Institute (MOI) Executive Director Dr Respicious Boniface, the institute made great strides in offering specialised services a short period after President John Magufuli ascended to power.
Before President Magufuli’s leadership, the hospital had only one X-Ray machine, but currently they have four machines operating. The fifth phase government also invested heavily at the institute through the construction of Angio Suite Modern X-ray Lab worth 7.9bn/-.
The angiography- suite was only available in South Africa but now it can be accessed in Tanzania as well. In the wake of the purchase of several modern operation facilities, the number of operated patients has increased from between 400 and 500 to between 700 and 900 in a month.
According to the ministry of health, over the past five years, the government has constructed 1,769 health facilities countrywide, including 1,198 dispensaries, 487 health centres and 71 district hospitals. It has also constructed 10 regional hospitals, including Mwalimu Nyerere Memorial Hospital in Mara Region, whose construction was stalled since 1970.
The government has also constructed three zonal referral hospitals, thus increasing the number of health facilities from 7,014 in 2015 to 8,783 to date. The government says investments in specialised services had reduced the number of patients seeking medical treatment abroad.
According to statistics, between 200 and 300 patients were referred abroad annually, but the number had dropped to less than 60. Minister of State in the President’s Office (Regional Administration and Local Government), Mr Selemani Jafo said that the fifth phase government had set a historic record compared to the previous government, by constructing 77 district hospitals and 115 health centres.
He said at independence, the country had 115 health centres with surgical services, but the figure climbed to 487, capable of providing surgical services. Expounding, Mr Jafo noted that it is the first time the government has constructed health facilities in remote areas, where the grassroots’ villagers have been missing them.
Tabling budget estimates for the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children for the 2020/2021 fiscal year, the then Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ummy Mwalimu said the government had improved the services to save the lives of Tanzanians and reduce the number of patients seeking treatment overseas.
She noted that between July 2019 and March 2020, her ministry received a list of 92 patients from zonal referral facilities and national hospital who were supposed to be referred abroad and only 53 were approved.
“This is a huge drop compared to 554 referrals which were submitted to the ministry in the 2014/2015 fiscal year, of which 385 were approved for treatment abroad,” she said.