Zimbabwe’s health care providers ponder future after Covid-19

By Michael Gwarisa

Zimbabwe’s health delivery system is going through a major transformation that has been forced by the outbreak of Covid-19 as service providers continue to grapple with challenges posed by the pandemic, experts have said. 

Nixjoen Mapesa, Premier Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) acting managing director, said Covid-19 had caused a lot of disruptions in the healthcare industry, which will define its future.

Mapesa made the remarks at a recent virtual meeting on the future of health care in Zimbabwe.

“The fact that the pandemic has changed the way we operate cannot be over emphasised,” he said.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is poised to be a defining moment for Zimbabwe’s healthcare industry.

“Even as organisations across the country continue to grapple with the immediate impact of the outbreak, leaders are also beginning to plan for the future with the understanding that the pandemic is reshaping and restructuring the industry in ways that are likely to be permanent.”

The PSMAS boss said there were conversations around the direction the healthcare industry will take post the Covid-19 pandemic amid indications that innovations such as tele-health will be adopted as a survival strategy.

“While all can agree that the post Covid-19 era is likely to look notably different from the pre-Covid-19 reality, there is considerable debate about the degree and nature of change the industry will experience,” Mapesa said.

“Debate is currently ongoing around how Covid-19 will impact among other things, demand of healthcare services. 

“Talk is around the health statuses of individuals and members for medical aid companies, how tele-health is going to reshape the healthcare industry, how the approach to behavioral health services is going to be redefined, how services to senior care and geriatric management are going to be affecting demand of care.”

He added: “There is also debate around how Covid-19 is redefining the purchaser landscape, how are employers going to respond to medical aid coverage for their employees.”

Covid-19 has also opened doors for disruptive market entrance by new players, who are taking advantage of opportunities presented by the pandemic and this was likely to redefine perceptions around healthcare as well as how the public perceives access to healthcare, Mapesa said.

Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ), chief executive officer Shylet Sanyanga, said the outbreak of Covid-19 had caught local health providers unaware, hence the distortions in pricing that characterised the early days of the pandemic.

“Nobody had an idea of what exactly it costs to treat or deal with this condition of Covid-19,” Sanyanga said.

“From prevention and the personal protective equipment  as most of the PPE was mainly based on speculative pricing and the cost of treatment  was also based on speculative pricing because nobody understood exactly what was required.

“There was also the element of risk to the extent that some service providers introduced an extra layer of costs whenever they had to treat a patient even if the patient was presenting with a condition that is not related to Covid-19.”

She said the medical aid industry reported an increase in respiratory related claims from 16 percent to about 28 percent.

Medical aid providers also saw a huge drop in subscriptions due to dwindling incomes that characterised lockdowns to slow down the spread of Covid-19. 

There are 34 medical aid providers that are registered under AHFoZ with 1.6 million members, which is 10 percent of Zimbabwe’s population.

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