NGOCC chairperson Sara Longwe says the National Health Insurance Bill which President Edgar Lungu recently signed into law is a death sentence for many Zambians because treatment in health facilities will no longer be free.

In an interview with News Diggers! Longwe observed that the Bill was not subjected to a consultative process which was needed.

“As a womens’ movement, we are very concerned that this Act did not have the consultative process it should have had. Because it is really making people pay more money. And it is not a certain group of people in this case, it is everyone, everyone who is an adult and goes for medicals. Even if you are not an adult, your parents have to be Health Insurance holders, so it is for everybody. Even the ones who are still in your belly, they also are paying. If you go for antenatal, all the basic treatment, you have to pay for the them now. It is no longer free,” Longwe said.

She said the bill would hurt the poor the most.

“So there should have been a better understanding because they could have done it differently. One of them is, if people had said ‘yes we should’, they could have studied it. Not starting immediately because the economy is really down and many people are barely surviving. We are all below the poverty datum [line]. People are not getting much from anything they are doing. Only a top hand full; the ministers, business people and some professionals who are in lucrative professions,” she said.

“So out of this [bill] women are the ones who are going to be hit most because we are at the bottom of every basic health issue. That means if we don’t have enough money, we can’t feed properly and so people will get sick. So we will have to do the nursing ourselves at home because we can’t pay the Health Insurance. It’s a pity that the Ministry of Justice did not do justice to the bill before the took it. In fact, before they made it as a bill, they should have done bit of conversing [on] whether this health insurance can work in the situation that we are in. Will it improve people’s lives? Because now it’s going to make people’s lives worse and more deaths, preventable deaths, are going to happen,” she said.

Longwe said as a women movement, they wished government would not implement the law.

“So as women movement, we really are looking [forward] to the government not to start implementing this Act. It should go back to the drawing board and have it properly looked at. The bill is dependent on people having extra money to pay for health service. So if people are not in lucrative economic engagement where would they get the money from? 50 percent of this population in Zambia is youths who are below 20 years and they are not yet earning money of their own. They are going to be dependent on the money of adults who are working. And half of the 15 million people in Zambia, I heard on the radio, about 5 million which is one third are in wage employment,” said Longwe.

“And when we look at women out of those five million, only a third are women. So how are we going to sustain our health? If you don’t pay insurance, you can’t be treated. And these under age are relying on their parents who are not earning much. They won’t be able to pay so many diseases are not going to be treated. If you don’t produce your insurance they can’t treat you. So if lots of people are not being treated that means there will be more illnesses and more deaths. Its a death Ac, its not a health insurance Act. We shall have more deaths, we shall go back to the days where HIV used to kill us because we didn’t know how to handle it. But now a lot more illnesses will kill us because we can’t afford to prevent them or treat them because we don’t have health insurance.”