Magazine article African Business

Row over Mobile Hospitals: Zambia Has Embarked on a Revolutionary Method of Taking Health Care to Rural Areas through Sophisticated Mobile Hospitals. despite the Success of the Scheme So Far, the Government Has Come in for Stiff Criticism from Some Quarters. Stephen Williams Reports

Magazine article African Business

Row over Mobile Hospitals: Zambia Has Embarked on a Revolutionary Method of Taking Health Care to Rural Areas through Sophisticated Mobile Hospitals. despite the Success of the Scheme So Far, the Government Has Come in for Stiff Criticism from Some Quarters. Stephen Williams Reports

Article excerpt

For Zambia's 12m citizens, universal free health care is a right that is firmly enshrined in the constitution. But for many of those citizens that live in rural areas, constituting 60% of the population, travelling to the nearest health post, doctor or hospital is often an insurmountable problem in terms of distance and the relatively high cost of public transport.

One way around at least part of this problem has been the commissioning of nine purpose-built mobile health centres, one for each of the country's provinces. These mobile health centres, better known as mobile hospitals, are the centrepiece of Zambia's President Rupiah Banda's health care provision policies - and a bone of contention with his political opponents.

With the political temperature rising steadily as presidential elections loom in the next few months, they are viewed as a controversial project in terms of their cost.

Zambia's opposition parties say that the money spent on these units, a total of more than Zkw300bn ($53m), might have been better spent on other health-care projects. Michael Sata MP, the leader of the opposition Patriotic Front, is a major critic, accusing Banda, who leads the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party, of conducting an expensive political gimmick.

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Sata's long-standing opposition to the growing Chinese involvement in Zambia's economy, especially in the extractive industries' sector, might well be behind his forthright opposition to the mobile hospital initiative. The nine mobile hospitals were acquired from the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation with the assistance of a 90-year soft loan from China's Exim Bank.

Yet Banda argues that the mobile hospitals will reach almost three out of four Zambians. The six truck and trailer units that comprise each mobile hospital are equipped with X-ray machines, laboratories and even a surgical theatre. The mobile units all have independent power and water supplies, as well as providing staff with sleeping accommodation and canteens. They can treat everything from small ailments to serious diseases and accidents.

Healthcare revolutionised

So far, figures released by Zambia's Ministry of Health show mobile hospitals have treated more than 50,000 Zambians since their launch in April 2011, and they have been able to provide very sophisticated medical services to those who live hundreds of kilometres from an alternative, fixed-location facility, such as the 100 or so hospitals located around the country. The mobile hospital units, which were introduced to the Northwestern Province earlier this year, have already revolutionised healthcare services in some of Zambia's more remote regions. …

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