Boubaker Zakhama, President of the Federation of Health and member of the Trade Association of Private Clinics, calls on the government to save the existing 800 private clinics in Tunisia, strongly affected by the revolution in Libya. Interview:
How is the current situation of private clinics in Tunisia?
Economically, private clinics maintain their positions. We do not have deficit problems or financial difficulties, with the exception of those that had faced difficulties at the beginning of the Revolution, mainly in the region of Sfax where we had some problems. Since March, things started to stabilize or even recover.
With the outbreak of the revolution, all private clinics were mobilized to participate in the care for the wounded of the revolution. It is a duty, and physicians have played a decisive role in this area.
Unfortunately, this was not known to the authorities, and we were not eager to make it known. We do our health job that does not need advertising because it is a sacred duty to our champions of the revolution.
Then, with the events in Libya, we had supported for free the injured and for a period of 3 to 4 months. We wanted to make this effort a sign of reconciliation and cooperation with our Libyan friends.
But this has resulted in huge losses to the private medical sector?
This gesture was not felt by the Libyan authorities, so much so that we are suffering from arrears. To date, the sector of private clinics is claiming debts of around 60 million dinars to the Libyan authorities. The problem has unfortunately not been resolved despite a commitment by the minutes signed in Tunis in February, in the presence of the Libyan embassy and Libyan officials.
Certainly there will be implications for private clinics?
Certainly, this debt creates significant difficulties for the smooth running of private clinics and especially for the payment of personal and compulsory charges. We tried to overcome this crisis with a strong contribution from our banks that have extended credits to ensure the smooth running of our clinics, but I think the problems will get worse
What should be done to cope with it?
Despite this difficult problem, we continue to support the Libyans who come for treatment in our clinics. To remedy this situation, the trade association of private clinics has recently brought together all clinics which sought to contact the ambassador who was not available to express their discontent. However, we have formed a committee of three members to reach out to the Libyan Minister of Finance. I hope the problem will be solved
No intervention on the part of our government?
The Tunisian authorities do not help us, unfortunately, although it is a vital sector, which contributes to the economic development of our country not only by creating jobs but also by the turnover in exports amounting to 500 MTD per year which is expected to increase especially by opening up to other African countries.
Moreover, the trade association, in collaboration with the CEPEX, has organized many events to reach new markets like the Ivory Coast or Mali … Therefore, the horizons of cooperation with these countries are promising if we combine the sector’s efforts and those of the Tunisian authorities.
What is your message to the government?
I do not want to make criticisms because it is a government that has started to work and we wish it every success. But my message is the following: we are willing to help the government to engage in certain actions. And there it is called to help us so that we can overcome the payment difficulties we have with Libya.