By Anna Chibamu
VICE President and Health Minister Constantino Chiwenga has dismissed a petition by pharmacists who were seeking to have the Public Health Act amended, and include them into the ministry’s top administrative posts.
Speaking during a virtual oral evidence hearing Wednesday regarding the petition by the Retail Pharmacist Association of Zimbabwe to the Health Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, Chiwenga said the petition showed the association does not have full understanding of the technical and legal framework that governs the appointment of the ministry’s top posts.
“The ministry’s position is that the petitioners have misdirected themselves and further exposed their lack of understanding of the technical and legal framework that govern the appointment of posts of permanent secretary, provincial and district health officers. In this regard, we recommend that they be referred to the Ministry of Health and Child Care to be assisted in understanding the technical basis and legal framework that govern the said posts,” said Chiwenga.
Recently, the association urged Parliament to amend the Public Health Act and incorporate clauses that ensure all professionals in various units of the health sector were considered for top administrative posts in government such as permanent secretaries or chief health officers in the Health Ministry.
Joselyn Chaibva, the Retail Pharmacists Association chairperson, told the Health Parliamentary Portfolio Committee the Public Health Act of 1924 only recognised medical doctors as the only health professionals to be considered for administrative posts in the Health Ministry.
She said the archaic Public Health Act only considered medical doctors and dentists as essential service providers yet the advent of Covid-19 had revealed that laboratory technicians were also pivotal in the fight against the pandemic.
“We have participated and contributed our views on the Public Health Bill of 2017, but we noted that some of our contributions fell by the wayside and our contributions were not included in the final Act,” said Chaibva.
However, the VP reminded the Retail Pharmacists Association that even though it had exercised its right to petition Parliament on the technical level of administration of the Ministry of Health, requesting for recognition of pharmacists, responsibilities to perform specific tasks were assigned not just to the willing but also to those with requisite skills and competencies of which the health profession is no exception.
According to Chiwenga, in the current Pharmacists Administrative Structure there is a directorate of pharmacy at head office, headed by a director, who reports to the chief director curative services as the provincial pharmacists report to the provincial medical director, while the district pharmacists report to the district medical officer hence, pharmacists are part of the ministry’s administrative structure, albeit in their sphere of operations.
“The legal framework that governs the administrative structure of the health sector is spread in various legal instruments, including the Constitution, Statutes and Regulations.
“Chapter 9 of the Constitution on principles of public administration and leadership enunciates the basic values and principles governing public administration. Therefore, as stipulated in the afore-stated Section of the Constitution, appointment to offices in all tiers of government including government institutions and agencies and government-controlled entities and other public enterprises must be made primarily based on merit,” the Minister stated.
He argued that the Health Professions Act recognises all health professionals and categorises them according to how they have been trained and certified to practice their calling.
The categories are known as Councils, which are responsible for the registration and licensing of their respective members, after assessing the training and certification.
“It is important to note that the Act recognises the distinct skills each profession is contributing to the management of patients and the preventive aspects of the health care system in an equitable manner based on training and certification.
“The Health Service Board implements the provisions of the Act as it is responsible for recruiting all posts from deputy directors to chief directors. The recruitment procedure is competitive to satisfy the Constitutional and Statutory requirements of appointment based on merit,” added Chiwenga.
In the same manner, the Public Health Act [15:17], he said recognised the technical nature of the functions to be performed by the chief health officer (who shall be the permanent secretary of the Ministry), the provincial and district health officers in relation to the Ministry’s responsibilities for public health and out of the categories identified in terms of the Health Professions Act (27:19], the Public Health Act is placing professionals in positions of administration based on their training, certification and licencing.
The Public Health Act, Chiwenga highlighted also recognised that the appointment of provincial and district health officers is conducted at appropriate levels by the Health Services Board, in terms of the Health Service Act and through a competitive process.
He reminded the association that the post of permanent secretary is a constitutional appointment, in terms of Section 205 of the Constitution, apparently, none of the positions alluded to in the petition are appointed in terms of the Public Health Act.
Chiwenga also told the committee the petitioners had focused on administrative posts of the permanent secretary, provincial health officer and district health officer and further appreciate a public health background and a business administration degree as an added advantage for these posts but cast a blind eye and ignore the fact that the three are technical posts responsible for the treatment of patients as indicated by the Medical Services Act.
“The core function of medical practitioners, because of their basic training, certification, and licensing, is to treat patients, while pharmacists dispense the medicines as prescribed by medical practitioners. The public health qualification does not qualify one to treat patients, as it is only meant to equip health care professionals with preventive aspects of health services.
“The petitioners appear not to be aware that the Public Health Act is only one of many pieces of legislation governing the health care system, at least from their presentation, and is not the legislation that governs the appointment of a Permanent Secretary or the appointment of Provincial and District Health Officers.”