However, this did not start yesterday; the fact that the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare’s budgetary allocation has been raised in priority to number three from number six is a positive action taken by JK towards improving the health sector.
For quite some time, JK has been speaking of his efforts to improve the country’s health sector and has committed himself in officiating several activities that were being conducted by this Ministry.
Just a fortnight ago, he graced the Tanzania Dental Association (DTA) workshop in Dar es Salaam, where he pledged to improve the oral health service accessibility. This is one of the areas that are very critical to our country and needs utmost attention.
Our people only report to the dentists when they have a toothache but not otherwise! There are several dental services that need to be administered to our people if only they could have known that. Therefore there is a need to mount awareness campaigns for our people to get these dental health services.
Currently, there are 518 dentists country-wide, while the dentist –patient ratio is far too high from the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. The current dentist –patient ratio stands at 1:120,000 against 1:7,500. Last year, the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Lucy Nkya, told Parliament that Tanzania has a shortage of 4993 dental experts. With the rapid population increase rate in the country, the health sector is increasingly facing shortage of skilled workers.
The country’s requirement right now is about 5,000 dentists and I would not like to believe that since independence we have not reached at that target, if not surpassed it. Where are they? We have to do something to our professionals in order to retain them otherwise we will end up being a training ground for other countries which can offer better packages to our professionals.
Most of our professionals are scattered around the world as part of the brain drain. But in the recent years, I have watched with disbelief the number of our young professionals storming the Southern African countries’ labour market. Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Angola, Mozambique and South Africa are saturated with experts from Tanzania enjoying the so-called green pastures. Some are even doing their internship in these countries and never come back home.
In one of his monthly speeches, some few years back, JK stressed on his government’s efforts in building local capacity in the health sector in order to avert the seemingly expensive costs of sending people to India and South Africa. He cited an example of the year 2008 where Tanzania had been able to start Open Heart Surgery after sending 26 doctors to India for Open Heart Surgery. They are already now our experts!
He assured Tanzanians that the government will continue to improve health facilities following the construction of the Ultra-Modern Open Heart Surgery and Training Institute at Dar es Salaam. And recently he further expressed his desire to see the existing schools of dentistry are expanded, upgraded and have enough trained human resources as one of the strategies to make the service more accessible.
On expansion of the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Science (MUHAS) at Mlonganzila, it is expected to complement government’s efforts toward building capacity. JK seems to be up beat on this one as he had declared that he would like to see Mlonganzila operational before he retires from his tenure of presidency come 2015. Basically the improvement of the health sector of this country depends on two areas of which the President is deeply involved in. These are the infrastructure - the necessary working tools and secondly, the capacity building with its retention.
Probably the team working on remuneration of the doctors which was the bone of contention in their recent strike will do their work well.. Of course, it should be give and take as long as the discussions are done in good faith taking cognisance of the country’s economic situation and rationalisation with other sectors of sensitive professions in terms of packages and salaries.
We should not expect miracles and indeed we have to avoid having enormous disparity on the salaries and if need be there should be convincing explanation. The country should think of reviewing the country’s salary structures and reconsider the priorities rather than embracing the current situation with shocking disparities of salaries.
Anyhow, it is important to embark on capacity building at the same time we should be able to retain our professionals. Give them a better deal, they won’t run away. Of late we have seen Tanzanian professors from Southern African universities coming back home after their packages have been improved at home. I know a good number of them back at the University of Dar es Salaam. And I also know a few of them who have just opted to become politicians and came to contest for Parliamentary seats and won.
The approach of improving our health sector sounds nice, but it is even nicer to those countries which are ready to offer handsomely and porch our professionals. This might also prove to be disastrous to our country following the envisaged East African Common Market where other countries are willing to offer better packages to these professionals who are highly in demand.
That being the case, our packages should be competitive and attractive to our professionals including to our neighbouring countries. This is the only way of getting back our professionals and may also be possible to lure professionals from other countries.
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