|The Courier N° 121 March-april 1990- Dossier Refugees - Country Reports: Botswana - Zambia (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)|
|Zambia: Copper, a fickle friend|
Health and education reflect a countrys economic mood and since in Zambias case generosity is no longer the order of the day, there are far-reaching consequences for the education, training and health of the population.
Education was one of the Governments priorities on independence in 1964, in particular because very few men or women had been trained before that time and the authorities, which only had a pool of 100 university graduates and 1120 secondary school diploma-holders to work with, embarked upon a huge programme of nationalisation and Zambianisation of managers. The training process was speeded up by making education free, so that everyone, regardless of the familys rung on the social ladder, had equal access to it. But after 10 years or so, during which the system ticked over fairly smoothly, galloping demographic growth, dwindling financial resources and a lowering of teaching standards silted up the workings of the educational machinery. The result, especially before the economic crisis worsened, was a constant increase in the number of Zambian youngsters sent abroad (to Europe and to neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe) to study at all levels at their parents expense.
Today, the problem is such that the Government has decided to bring in a three-shift system in the primary schools to try and ensure that all children of this age can be taught. But it is a makeshift solution, as the school day now only lasts about three hours.
A decline in quality
And then there are the costs of schooling. Public finances by themselves are no longer adequate to cover educational spending and free education is now a myth, as the Government is asking for contributions from parents and local authorities alike. Local communities will be expected and encouraged to play a more active role in the construction, operation and maintenance of the educational institutions so as to relieve Government of part of the budgetary burden is how the document which the Government and the IMF-IBRD produced on economic policy in 198993 puts it. For the Government both wants and is determined to reverse the decline in the quality of, and access to education, particularly in the very, poor urban and rural areas.
However, since the requirements of education cannot be reduced to a minimum, the private sector did not wait for the change in official Government policy to set up private establishments, such as the International School of Lusaka, the American School (not open to Zambians) and many others, with annual fees of $300-800 (K 5000-14000), which are very high for a Zambian to pay, and even $4500 at the American school.
But, typically of a situation of this sort, the high cost of the education is not reflected in the standard of the teaching and the level in some of Lusakas private secondary schools can be three or four times below that of the most average of European establishments. The situation is even more critical in the nations primary schools, where the obligatory uniforms and leather footwear represent outlays- and worry- for many families, which tend to be large and unable to afford to send their children abroad. A pair of leather shoes costs K 1000-1200 and the average wage is K 1500-2500 ($94-156 approx.).
The university, comfortably situated on a fine campus, is faced with a similar financial problems, coupled with graduate under-employment and unemployment.
Health standards have suffered from the crisis, too, and ailments like diarrhoea and malaria have become endemic. The development and resistance of the various strains of malaria have put it at the top of the list of the five most prevalent diseases in Zambia, the Head of Public Health at the Ministry said. The exact figure of malaria victims is not known, Dr Ben Chirwa said, but the situation has deteriorated over the last few years. The advantage, of course, if it can be put that way, he went on, is that many of these endemic diseases can be cured if you have the means of getting the medicines and developing a policy of prevention. The Government plans to cope with the decline in public health by taking extensive measures involving transferring new resources to the rehabilitation, consolidation and maintenance of facilities. The situation in some hospitals and dispensaries is such that staff are having to re-use certain equipment (such as delivery gloves and syringes), which are then sterilised by boiling- which does not necessarily guarantee a high standard of treatment. The non-governmental organizations could help us, said a nun who is a doctor in a number of dispensaries in some of Lusakas poorest suburbs.
One syndrome may mask another..
AIDS, the acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome, is also one of the major concerns of the Zambian health authorities and of the State itself, as it is everywhere else. But, the heads of the medical services say, the HIV virus is being propagated in conditions which could well increase the dangers of contamination. Although the worst-affected groups are those with sexually-transmitted diseases (STD), those who have had blood transfusions and the babies of infected parents, another section of the population running the gravest danger is the teenagers ( 15-30% of HIV-positive patients?), because of the high-risk behaviour of some Zambian adults. Dr. Ben Chirwa, who is also director and coordinator of the national AIDS control programme, says that here in Zambia, definitely there is what you might call a sugar-daddy syndrome, where you find older people have a tendency to go for sexual relations with younger girls, teenagers particularly, a phenomenon which is discussed in both medical circles and the Lusaka newspapers. Therefore there is a potentially greater risk of transmitting the infection to younger girls Dr Chirwa concluded. An example of unreasonable behaviour whose syndrome may well mask another syndrome, AIDS.
Ultimately, the risk to young men (in the 20-25 age-group) is greater too, as they are the natural partners of these girls once they are post-adolescent.
Of course, the WHO officer in Lusaka says, there is no point in getting more alarmed about Zambia than other ACPs like Barbados, which has the highest rate of AIDS victims and carriers in the Caribbean (figures as of 31 March 1989), or African countries on a line between Congo and Malawi and crossing Zaire, Burundi, Rwanda and Zambia. And the Zambian Government should be congratulated for its open-minded approach to the AIDS issue.
However, the economic consequences of a high rate of HIV-positive youngsters are more serious for the country in the long term, they say in Lusaka. And, given the conditions described, when these young people reach the age at which they should be going to work, they will already have AIDS and be unable to take over from the older workers if nothing is done about the problem- which is why special attention has to be given to this aspect of transmission of the virus.
And the huge efforts which the WHO, the European Community, bilateral aid and the Government itself are making to control AIDS are beginning to bear fruit, particularly in the field of sexually-transmitted diseases.