UNIVERSAL HEALTH COVERAGE: Why scheme is crucial

AS the government is set to table the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Parliament for the second and third reading, emphasis has been placed on the importance of the scheme in relieving Tanzanians, especially the most vulnerable one from digging deeper into their pockets to service their medical bills.

Minister for Health, Ms Ummy Mwalimu disclosed this during a meeting with editors from various media houses in Dar es Salaam, yesterday, indicating that the UHC endeavor has been supported by the major improvements undertaken by the government to ensure reliable access to health service delivery for all Tanzanians.

“The issue of cost is a big challenge to most of the people in accessing medical services in the health facilities… the UHC will tackle the challenge and ensure majority of Tanzanians are being accommodated in the scheme,” said Ms Mwalimu

Ms Mwalimu noted that in the bill-it has been proposed that a household comprising six people the contribution will be 340,000/-, which is a standard basic package, whereas a contribution of six per cent will be deducted from the salaries of civil servants and workers from the private sector.

She added that the bill will be tabled for the second reading this February and the plan is to ensure that the law becomes operational by July 1 this year.

She noted that the government has heavily invested in the construction of dispensaries, health centres, district hospitals and referral hospitals in ensuring people have access to the services at a closer proximity.

In the case of medicines and medical equipment, the budget has been increased massively, noting that efforts are being made to further reduce the human resource gap for Tanzanians to enjoy quality and timely services.

She hinted that the UHC scheme is meant to help Tanzanians not to strain much, to the extent of selling meager resources to pay for their patients’ medical bills.

“After collecting recommendations from stakeholders and parliamentarians, we have proposed a schedule of amendment, with a major agenda of integrating the health insurance scheme with other crucial services,” indicated the minister.

Much as the scheme is mandatory, Ms Mwalimu said failing to enrol into the scheme will not be criminalized, stressing that there will be circumstances which will require a person to acquire the crucial health insurance in order to access other services.

Among other issues which have been adopted in the new draft bill includes letting the private sector members to continue benefiting from the scheme even after retiring, contrary to what was the case when one ceased to benefit upon retirement.

The minister said the government will equip the Tanzania Insurance Regulatory Authority (TIRA) with resources including transferring staff from the ministry to work together in regulation.

On the sources of revenue for the scheme, the minister said the government has set aside funds to facilitate the course while they establish other means.

Earlier on, the Head of Government Taskforce on UHC, Dr Bernard Konga said the reality shows that at least 85 per cent of Tanzanians do not have access to health insurance, thus failing to reliably access medical services.

He said the current voluntary mechanism of enrollment into health insurance funds for both the private and informal sector, has led to most people to join the schemes upon illnesses.

“In facilitating the implementation of the UHC law once it is passed, the government has already put in place strategies that will significantly enhance the plan, such as continuous awareness, increase of health facilities from 8,449 facilities in 2019 to 10,067 as per the 2022 census,” he underscored.

Besides, he said the government disburses 20bn/- per month for purchasing drugs and other health equipment whereby by December, 2022 availability of drugs was at 67 per cent from 62 per cent in October the same year.

Likewise, the government has procured state-of-the-art medical equipment including four MRIs, X-rays (95) and CT- Scan (30), which have been distributed in the various facilities countrywide.

Also, construction of 111 emergency services departments and intensive care units (73) enabling the provision of quality services in relation to the demand, noting that in the financial year 2022/23 a total of 8bn/- has been set aside to finance super specialized training of the country’s experts.

On his part, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Prof Abel Makubi urged Tanzanians to consider joining UHC once approved by Parliament, because the scheme is for among other benefits, setting the majority free from poverty.

He said this is because some people sell their plots or livestock so that they can get money for medical treatment, which plunges them into poverty, adding that this universal scheme will address such challenges since the costs are to be covered before one has fallen sick.

“For those proven completely unable to cater for medical expenses, the government will make their medical contributions to UHC,” noted the PS.

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