Zimbabweans left to die as they are denied access to health services

CHW is concerned with the nationwide strike by nurses which has crippled delivery of health services across the country. During the past five days CHW monitors have been monitoring patient care in the country’s hospitals and we are deeply concerned about the adverse impact this strike has had on thousands of Zimbabweans who are failing to access health care. Critical procedures in some institutions have been shelved.

We urge the government to find a lasting solution to the perennial strikes by health care workers as this is putting lives at risk. The nurses’ strike follows the strike by doctors. These strikes speak of deeper problems related to conditions of service in the health care sector and these must be confronted and resolved by the government working with health care workers.

In our snap survey we have noted the following:

  • The country’s major central, provincial and district hospitals have been hit by the strike. Whilst there are qualified nurses working in some facilities the majority are on strike. Hospitals in urban areas have been hardest hit while most rural health facilities are operating to near normal.
  • Patients visiting the country’s major health facilities such as Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, Mpilo Central Hospital have decreased significantly as patients opt to stay at home or make use of private facilities. Patients continue to be turned away. Some outpatients departments are literally empty and some offices in those departments are closed out to the public.
  • Whilst some matrons and sisters in charge have joined the strike, a significant number continues to be available to provide services.
  • The Doctors are available and doing their usual duties. Red cross and St Jones nurse aides are available in some institutions
  • Government has deployed army nursing personnel in some health facilities such as Harare Central Hospital. This remains an inadequate and ineffective strategy.
  • Student Nurses are holding forte in manning some of the critical wards. For example some critical wards are manned by third year student nurses who are now playing Sister in Charge roles. The challenge is that student nurses are meant to provide nursing care only and cannot prescribe any drugs even a paracetamol yet they are the ones manning our facilities. The working hours for these student nurses are overstretched and most now complain of burn out. Some start work at 7am and only knock off at 8pm with breaks in between. This in itself exposes patients to further risks. As such, an increase in deaths in some wards in major hospitals has been observed. One relative visiting a patient at Harare Central Hospital said ‘ I have never seem so many people crying in a single ward. People are dying here’.
  • Student nurses are even left to man maternity departments as midwives are also on strike and the student nurses are left at their inexperienced whims to help these women.
  • Basic critical needs and equipment are still in short supply for example some wards in our big central hospital do not even have a BP Machine. Oxygen is also in short supply among a whole lot of critical drugs.
  • A child died at Father O Hea Rural hospital after the Matron failed to secure the oxygen she needed to assist the child with and lack of support staff complicated her situation further. The child died. The same Matron, having worked from 8am to 4am failed to turn up for duty the next day as she was unwell.
  • Parirenyatwa, Mpilo Central Hospital, Harare Central Hospital, Chitungwiza Hospital have completely stopped admissions of new patients. Patients are being asked to look for alternative health services. Admission of few selected critical cases continues in some hospitals but Chitungwiza hospital turns away patients no matter how critical at the gate. Even pregnant women in labour are turned away. Only 1 Matron was on duty at Chitungwiza Hospital the rest, six are on leave we are told. Security guards at the hospital entrance are the ones screening and turning away patients.
  • There is a huge presence of police force and private security at some of the hospitals

What some citizens said?

  • My aunt had an operation on 16 April and discharged the following day. We were never told what to do with her. We are back with her and luckily she has been admitted though no one has attended her yet. (Gomo)
  • My sister was admitted onthe 15th but up to today she has not been assisted.
  • I lost one of my twin babies. My babies were delivered premature and caught an infection whilst in the tubes. I was asked to go and buy meds which were never administered, as there was no nurse to do so. My baby died. I am left with one. I am failing to move my baby to private care as no one is there to process the papers’.
  • Patients are being discharged early even after undergoing major surgery. Some are reporting back to hospitals citing complications.

In light of the above CHW is concerned with the way the Government has handled the matter.

  • The Government has resorted to using threats and has fired all striking nurses. It has in a way criminalized ‘industrial action’ yet this is within the constitutional rights of the striking nurses.
  • The Government was given 14days notices before the strike, a notice it ignored. It knew this was coming and no meaningful efforts were made to address to discuss the nurses grievances. We urge the government to be more pro-active in their approach to such matters so as to avoid unnecessary loss of lives and exposing our citizens to further risks and complications.
  • The nurses argue that the 17million which Government claims to have been transferred towards addressing the nurses’ needs and demands is actually money meant to address outstanding arrears which were owed to nurses.
  • If government is honest and genuine, it would be prudent to come up with clearly disaggregated data towards the offer, so that we know by what and how much have the nurses been addressed instead a huge figure without meaning and clarification.
  • We call upon both players to be more transparent and more honest in their discussions so that citizens stay fully informed and knowledgeable of what to expect at the hospitals.
  • Our major and biggest referral hospital Parirenyatwa has sent away most of its OPD clients who would have travelled from as far as Matabeleland. These are desperate people with life threatening complicated conditions, who are desperate for medical services. Our Government is putting patients in further strain and stress. We call upon our government to be more humane, compassionate and be in reality a government for the people. People are dying and the Government cannot continue to delay in finding a solution.
  • A solution needs to be found urgently, as the poor Zimbabweans, largely reliant on public health facilities are left to die as they cannot afford private care.
  • Government needs to account for all avoidable deaths that have and will continue to occur during the strike.
  • Government need to provide at least basic and adequate working equipment and sundries for health personnel. We have seen dire situations in these hospitals and a serious lack of working amenities as basic as a BP machine in central hospital ward. Equipment is broken and obsolete. Some nurses resort to buying their own gloves so that they keep themselves safe.
  • We urge our government to put the lives of ordinary citizens first by taking decisions and actions meant to save us. Firing nurses is definitely an anti-life, anti-poor and anti-citizens strategy.

About Citizens Health Watch

Citizens Health Watch monitors health care delivery in public and private hospitals. The organisation works with monitors in all the country’s ten provinces monitoring access, quality, availability and affordability of healthcare services.

Contact: chw.zimbabwe@gmail.com 0772265433

Source: Citizens Health Watch