U.S. Annual Health Funding to Zim Tops $129 Million: Officials

Peter Kilmarx (left) with Peter Halpert
Peter Kilmarx (left) with Peter Halpert

The United States government spent $129 million in health funding to Zimbabwe in 2013; with nearly 80 per cent going towards HIV and AIDS programs, senior U.S. embassy health officials said on Tuesday.

“Our impact is through strategic coordination and integration,” said Peter Halpert, Health, Population and Nutrition team leader at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Zimbabwe.

“We  focus on strengthening and leveraging key multilateral organizations and are very active with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria with about a third of every dollar that is coming in to Zimbabwe representing contributions from the United States government,” said Halpert during a Food for Thought discussion session held at the Embassy’s Eastgate offices.

Overall USG health budget in Zimbabwe in 2013
Overall USG health budget in Zimbabwe in 2013

The discussion, co-presented by Halpert and Dr. Peter Kilmarx, Country Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC-Zimbabwe), provided information about how the U.S. government supports the health sector in Zimbabwe.

The $129 million in U.S. support represents the largest contribution to the health sector by a single foreign donor. The officials noted that foreign donors contributed a total of $312 million for the health sector in Zimbabwe, with another $380 million in the Zimbabwe government’s budget for health.

“One of the cornerstones of our intervention in health is to encourage country ownership; and as a result we have invested in country-led plans as well as built sustainability through health systems strengthening,” said Kilmarx. He cited the post-graduate program in public health at the University of Zimbabwe as one of the key interventions supported by the U.S. through his organization which receives the bulk of its funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Responding to questions from the audience; who included parliamentarians, the two U.S. embassy officials hailed the health systems in Zimbabwe.

“In many things, particularly in HIV and now in malaria, Zimbabwe has world class programs… everybody looks to Zimbabwe for their health programs as the leader,” said Halpert, who has worked with USAID health programs in Zimbabwe for over 14 years. He cited significant progress made in anti-retroviral treatment and the numbers of people tested for HIV.

During his tenure in Zimbabwe, Halpert said he had witnessed how USAID’s investment of about half a billion dollars over the last decade had contributed to a significant decline in annual HIV and AIDS mortality from an estimated 147,800 in 2005 to 41,500 in 2013.

Among other things, he said, U.S. funding is providing life-saving anti-retrovirals to 160,000 people living with HIV, a figure which represents approximately 28% of the total number of Zimbabweans receiving the medication. To prevent malaria, USAID provided over 690,000 long-lasting, insecticide-treated nets, contributing to an increase in the proportion of people who slept under a treated net from 19 percent in 2009 to 58 percent in 2013. Through USAID, the U.S. provided 1.2 million malaria test kits and over 550,000 malaria prevention tablets for pregnant women, resulting in a significant national increase in the number of women on malaria prophylaxis from eight percent of pregnant woman in 2010 to 75 percent in 2012.

In addition to training health workers, Kilmarx said, CDC-Zimbabwe through its partners has implemented several gender related surveys through an initiative called the Gender Challenge Initiative as well as  strengthened infection control practices in health care facilities through the Zimbabwe Infection Prevention and Control Project (ZIPCOP). ZIPCOP procured Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for 100 health facilities as well as renovated 10 public health facilities. The renovations to health facilities have decongested Opportunistic Infections (OI) clinics, reduced overcrowding, improved ventilation and patient flow, and ultimately safeguarded the well-being of both patients and staff.

Other support was channeled towards strengthening of laboratories so that it “ensures accurate, timely, quality-assured results for the diagnosis of HIV and follow up of those on antiretroviral (ART) care,” said Kilmarx.

He said through the Strengthening Laboratory Management towards Accreditation (SLMTA) program, 19 public sector laboratories were mentored in the development and implementation of Quality Management Systems. “One of these laboratories received a recommendation for accreditation, by the SADC Accreditation Service (SADCAS) to ISO15189 in March 2014, which gives independent confirmation to the competence of the laboratory,” said Kilmarx.

According to research reports, key health challenges in Zimbabwe include HIV, TB and Malaria which are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in Zimbabwe. At 960 per 100,000, Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in Africa. In addition, about one in four of Zimbabwe’s children have lost one parent or both. Other challenges include the exodus of skilled professional staff, particularly doctors and midwives and social workers.

U.S. support to the health sector is provided through multilateral agencies and civil society organizations with strategic cooperation with the Zimbabwe government.- ZimPAS © April 10, 2014