Major concern as health budget is slashed by 30pc Speaker Samwel Sitta By Sharifa Kalokola and Lucas Liganga The decision to slash healthcare funding has drawn sharp criticism just days before the 2010/11 Budget is tabled in Parliament in Dodoma.Commentators and stakeholders who spoke to The Citizen said the move was detrimental to public health, with some predicting a steep rise in the number of preventable deaths. The 2010/11 budget for the Health and Social Welfare ministry has been cut by 30 per cent from the Sh963 billion allocated in the current financial year to Sh678 billion. This is about 6.1 per cent of the Sh11.1 trillion Budget planned for the next financial year, far below the Abuja Declaration's proposal that 15 per cent of national budgets be dedicated to healthcare. "The health sector must be given higher priority…the healthcare situation in Tanzania is bad," Shadow Community Development minister Anna Komu said, adding that the allocation of funds for social services was still problematic. She added that the decision was likely to discourage donors from funding the health sector because it gave the impression that healthcare was not very high on the government's list of priorities. "The budget cut is ill-advised, and I won't be surprised if donors start channelling their assistance through NGOs (non-governmental organisations) instead of supporting the government directly," she told The Citizen by telephone. The Shadow Health and Social Welfare minister, Dr Ali Tarab Ali, echoed Ms Komu's views, saying the reduction would have far-reaching ramifications. "Healthcare is about people's lives, and should therefore rank among the government's top priorities," he said. Dr Ali said there was a need to boost funding for maternal and child healthcare and the fight against malaria, HIV and TB as well as non-communicable diseases such as hypertension. "For instance, Tanzania is still grappling with high rates of maternal deaths and infant mortality…we surely can't effectively tackle these problems by slashing funding for the health sector," he said. The opposition MP added that it was unacceptable for the government to set aside for healthcare less than half of what the Abuja Declaration proposed. But Health and Social Welfare minister David Mwakyusa said the government would strive to ensure that vital areas in the sector received adequate funding, adding that the ministry would make do with whatever sum it was allocated. "We take this as a challenge to us to work harder and be more keen on the use of funds," he told The Citizen yesterday. It was learnt last week in Dar es Salaam that the Health ministry's budget for the next financial year had been drastically reduced, but there was no official explanation for the decision. But Mr Omar Kwaang'w, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Social Services, which scrutinised the budget proposals, said the estimates were in line with the national health policy, millennium development goals and National Strategy for Growth and Poverty Reduction (Mkukuta). The ministry has identified five priority areas, namely construction of a dispensary in every ward, improving maternal and child healthcare, and controlling and preventing communicable and non-communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids. But this did not impress Tanzania Media Women's Association (Tamwa) Executive Director Ananilea Nkya, who said the slashing of the health budget by 30 per cent amounted to condemning many more Tanzanians to death. "The trimming of the health budget means that the number of poor people who are dying of treatable diseases is likely to increase dramatically," she said in a telephone interview on Saturday. She said the health budget had been cut because the decision would not affect "the big shots who are treated abroad whenever they fall sick". Ms Nkya added that the knock-on effect would be great because a sick national could not be expected to develop at the desired pace. She said healthcare and education should be allocated substantial budgets since they are the engines of any nation's economic development. Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) Executive Director Usu Mallya described reports of the budget reduction as "shocking". "There is every indication that the health budget will be reduced, and this is very sad news indeed," she said, adding that the steep reduction would effectively dash any hopes resulting from an increase of 11 per cent in the 2010/11 budget. Ms Mallya said the maternal mortality rate of 578 deaths per 100,000 pregnant women, meant that an average of 24 expectant mothers were dying daily, adding that this was unacceptable. "I'm sure the government would take urgent remedial measures if 24 people were dying every day in road accidents." She said the health sector needed heavy investment from the village to ward levels, adding that the investment should focus on training competent health personnel, improving emergency services, medical facilities and the referral system.