Author: Sandra Lombe, November 14 2017 - A few years ago, the government of the Republic of Zambia decided to buy mobile hospitals targeted mainly for rural areas, so they could provide services required, especially surgery. Mobile hospitals are mounted on trucks and are equipped with facilities and services such as X-ray and ultrasound scanners, mini theatre, power and water supply, dental/eye and nose clinic, kitchen and a sleeping room, and pharmacy, among others.

The news of mobile hospitals at that time was received with mixed feeling. Some thought they were a good idea, while others thought the whole issue was a waste of government resources. Still others had no opinion on the mobile hospitals. Most people, however, did not know how they would work, and a lot needed to be done to explain to them the benefits. Some people said they would rather have a building constructed so that it is ‘stationed’ than a mobile hospital that would pass through the areas from time to time. Many things were being considered, fuel and allowances for the mobile health personnel among them.

There were calls for the construction of more permanent healthcare facilities nationwide and provision of adequate medicines, medical equipment and ambulances. Other people said mobile hospitals were ideal for a country that is at war and not a peaceful country like Zambia, thinking that, for Zambia, they were a luxury and not a priority for the country to spend US$53 million.

But in 2010, the Zambian Republic’s President Rupiah Banda at that time said all those that were opposing the mobile hospitals will like them once they were in the country and they saw them. President Banda said those condemning the procurement of mobile hospitals will need them once they are finally purchased. Banda said people were taken to Lusaka for medical attention, but the government had decided to take health services as close as possible to the people. “And you will hear them say that these mobile hospitals… we don’t need them, wenye amudala wenye (pure lies big man). When you say you don’t want them, you will want them when they come because the people will want them,” he had said.

“…..We are …bringing in nine mobile hospitals, one for each province to areas, they will be moving to areas where people can’t reach treatments,” President Banda said. He said the government would also buy 12 boats for areas near the waters and on islands where people had difficulties to access hospitals and would be distributed to all provinces where people needed water transport. “We are also bringing into all the nine hospitals special equipment to ensure that people don’t have to move unless it is so critical; equipment … that will take care of serious injuries,” he said.

The President castigated the people that condemned the procurement of mobile hospitals. He said there were headlines about the ambulances, and some parliamentarians said they did not want them.

President Banda said, when the ambulances came, that the parliamentarians who opposed the procurement should not be given one, adding that the same parliamentarians complained when they heard that others had been given the ambulances. “The same people when they heard that everybody else had them, they complained. You will want the mobile hospitals when they come because the people will want them,” he said.

 Have the mobile hospitals been a success or a failure?

Reports indicate that the government has recorded a success in the operation of the mobile health services. The ministry of health said it had recorded a 100 percent increase in the mobile outreach operations of patients being attended to through mobile hospitals. The services by the mobile hospitals are free, and people have taken advantage of them to be screened for various medical provided by the health personnel at these hospitals. Those with ailments that needed referred to be taken to other hospitals like UTH [University Teaching Hospital] have been referred.

For example, one of the beneficiaries of the mobile hospital services ‘Trinity Muleya, 29, of Bulimi village in Sinazongwe, Southern Province, who had lived with a growth on her left eye for over 15 years, successfully underwent operation and thanked the government for the initiative. Muleya can enjoy a healthy life after living with the condition for over a decade. Because of the long distance to the hospital and lack of transport money to enable her travel to the district hospital, she was forced to helplessly live with the growth on her eye. Bulimi village is located about 100 kilometres away from the main Sinazongwe road, and few vehicles get to the remote settlement because of the poor state of the road.’  (Zambia Daily mail 2015)

Ministry of Health Spokesperson Dr. Maxwell Bweupe said the mobile hospitals had done tremendously well in places they had operated, with over 30,000 successful operations across the country. He added that there were calls by many others to have them in areas they had not reached.

He said the strategic focus in the health sector was to provide equitable access to quality health services with key principles being primary health care approach. He said the mobile hospitals have been a success and have greatly helped to take health care services closer to the people, especially in rural areas.

Dr. Bweupe reiterated the government’s commitment to ensuring health care services delivered to the people in a clean, safe and conducive environment.

 “They (mobile hospitals) have done very well and have been highly appreciated. Even in parliament there have been some parliamentarians who have been asking when are the mobile hospitals getting to their areas. This shows that people need them,” he said. “They (mobile hospitals) have been supporting outreach surgery.” Most people accessed health facilities with the mobile hospitals following them almost to their door steps.

In addition, the government has decided that new health facilities being constructed should be equipped with solar panels. “All the new facilities we are constructing in rural areas are powered with solar. This is a strong stance we have taken, and we have even partnered with the UNDP,” Dr. Bweupe said.

It is hoped that with the equipping of all health centres will help not only with lighting up the health facilities but also help in storing up of some medicines, especially that which need to be in fridges. This is a milestone for Zambia, especially the rural health facilities.