By JACQUELINE MWITWA
IMAGINE a day when patients from other countries will be flocking to Zambia for specialist medical attention.
This is not a farfetched dream because the Zambian Government, through the Ministry of Health, has plans to build more specialised hospitals and to improve current healthcare facilities to meet specialised medical standards.
This effort is aimed at reducing the number of Zambians who are often sent outside the country by the Ministry of Health to get specialized medical treatment.
This will be done by upgrading already existing health facilities and construction of more specialised medical institutions within the country.
In the past, patients with complicated medical conditions like heart, kidney, cancer and brain problems were usually referred to foreign countries like South Africa, India, Zimbabwe, France, Israel and many others to enable them receive required specialised treatment.
However, Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Kennedy Malama said the ministry is largely investing in human resource (specialised doctors), infrastructure and medical equipment to reach the goal of having all medical conditions treated within Zambia.
“As the health sector, we have embarked on the modernization of hospitals. This modernization is on two fronts: firstly, it is aimed at improving current hospitals, and secondly, it is aimed at setting up new specialized hospitals,” explained Dr Malama.
The permanent secretary further explained that the Government in the recent past has procured a number of medical equipment that is being used to treat diseases like cancer.
He said only patients with rare forms of the disease are being sent abroad for medication.
He said prior to 2006, cancer patients were being sent to Zimbabwe to get medical treatment, but as at now, Zambia has a specialized cancer disease hospital which is a stand-alone health facility operating with in-patient wards of 254 bed capacity.
He said already, some foreign based patients have started showing interest in coming to Zambia to get specialized cancer treatment from the Cancer Diseases Hospital.
“With the construction of the Cancer Diseases Hospital, ultimately, there has been a reduction in the number of patients being sent out for medical treatment because only those with rare cancer are sent out,” Dr Malama said.
Besides this, the Ministry of Health permanent secretary said there are plans of having specialised hospitals for brain surgery with the goal of localizing specialised medical treatment within the county.
He further said that Zambia has started conducting some cardiac (heart) surgeries and within the course of 2018, the country will – for the first time – conduct a renal (kidney) transplant surgery.
However, Dr Malama disclosed that there have been investment discussions of setting up specialised hospitals in Kitwe and Kasama so as to domesticate specialised medical treatment.
He said President Edgar Lungu launched the setting up a specialised hospital off airport road within Lusaka and the Ministry of Health is being supported by the Saudi Fund for International Development in setting up a specialised hospital for women and newly born babies in Lusaka’s Chalala area.
He noted that sending patients out of the country is expensive, and therefore, if specialised treatment is domesticated, it means that neighbouring countries will be attracted to travel to Zambia for treatment.
He said that will give birth to medical tourism which will also grow the country’s revenue base arising from delivering healthcare.
Above all, Dr Malama acknowledged that at the moment, some local patients will have to go abroad for specialist medical treatment as the Government, through the Ministry of Health, is still building and modernizing some specialised hospitals.
Medical Association of Zambia Treasurer Kevin Zimba said some patients in Zambia go abroad for medical attention because they prefer to have a second opinion from other professionals.
However some of the patients go abroad in search of expertise from foreign doctors.
Dr Zimba said about 200 to 500 patients go to foreign countries for specialized medication each year.
He further explained that some patients prefer to go abroad for treatment on their own while others are referred to foreign countries for specialized medical treatment by experts at the Ministry of Health.
The Medical Association of Zambia treasurer disclosed that some patients go to foreign countries for medication because they lack confidence in the local doctors and local medical facilities.
He said all patients have the right to choose where they want to get treatment from as long as they can afford it.
Dr Zimba said patients who afford to pay for themselves are given referral letters for them to go wherever they want to get treatment from while those who cannot afford specialized treatment from abroad enter the ad hoc (something done for with a purpose) committee where the Ministry of Health pays for them.
However, this involves expert doctors discussing whether a patient should go out or not and clearly state treatment to be undertaken in the foreign country.
However, Dr Zimba acknowledged that the Government is working hard to reduce the number of patients being sent out of the country to get specialized treatment by improving already existing medical facilities and building new specialized hospitals.
He said this can be proven by the recent surgery on the Siamese twins – Bupe and Mapalo – who were conjoined when they were born.
He said in the past, experts from India and Israel used to travel to Zambia to help with complicated surgeries but as at now, Zambian surgeons are capable of operating on complicated medical conditions.
“With the improved medical facilities and equipment, Zambian doctors are now able to conduct complicated medical operations within Zambia,” Dr Zimba said.
Government efforts through the Ministry of Health to improve existing hospitals and set up specialized ones will bring quality healthcare in Zambia.
This means patients will no longer have to be sent outside the country for specialized medical care because the country will soon become self sufficient in the provision of such care. – ZANIS