Current State of the Public Health Sector

We have watched over the past few months as the situation in our hospitals continues to deteriorate. In March this year the situation in hospitals deteriorated to the point where there were no bandages, gloves and syringes available, forcing senior doctors to highlight the dire situation publicly. The Ministry of Health and Child Care assured us that the situation was due to shortcomings at hospital management level. The matter also caught the attention of His Excellency who generously availed hard-earned taxpayers’ money to buy drugs and equipment. We continued to work with the little we had, while patiently waiting for the promised equipment.

There was much fanfare and ribbon cutting, and images of warehouses full of drugs which turned out to be cartons of fluids. Out of an inventory list of 2,000 items, only about 60 had been purchased. The Indian consignment was a great disappointment. The vast majority of the equipment which was released was completely unusable. This past week, technicians arrived to commission the remaining equipment. They proceeded to unveil second hand, refurbished equipment which is no longer being manufactured by the parent company (details available). The hospitals continue to be poorly stocked and remain a death trap, even with the presence of the hard-working, highly specialized workforce that Zimbabwe has.

Contrary to statements made on 26 November at the Cabinet briefing, over the past 2 months senior doctors have continued to offer emergency services at the various public sector hospitals. In response, the employer unlawfully withheld their salaries. As we speak, disciplinary letters are being handed out to senior doctors, including those who have been doing their best to save lives in the hostile public sector. The authorities are so vindictive that they went to theatre to hand a letter to a doctor who was finishing up an emergency operation. For the record, senior doctors will not be re-applying to come back to work. We do not accept that one can be dismissed for being incapacitated to come to work in an unsafe environment with nothing to use. We reiterate, we are not on strike.

It is now quite clear that the employer has no interest or intention to solve the crisis in the health sector. One cannot understand how they are failing to maximise on the skills and goodwill of the specialists at their disposal. Just in the last 2 months a Zimbabwean orthopaedic surgery student had the best results in the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA) exams. A Zimbabwean physician won the prize for best student from the College of Neurologists of South Africa. General surgery trainees have been scooping the first prize in the Registrars Symposium in South Africa from 2012 to date, consecutively. These are but a few examples. Zimbabwe doctors are still shining on the world stage and can do the same locally if given the resources. The MOHCC talks of bringing in doctors to set up super-specialist units while ignoring the readily available local workforce. The idea of Public Private Partnerships in the current format is dangerous to vulnerable citizens. The employer has been paying lip service to negotiations, and nothing has come of it except dismissal of doctors.

It is important for people to find out why this has taken so long to be resolved as a silent genocide continues to be perpetrated upon the people of Zimbabwe. We want to thank Honourable Cde Chinotimba who did not buy the smokescreens being created by those who are supposed to be representing us, and took time to find out for himself what is going in the sector. We ask that Zimbabweans across all sectors take the time to really investigate what is at the heart of this ongoing crisis and why the powers that be in health are seemingly unable or unwilling to solve it. This is not about money. People have been working for years for remuneration well below what they deserve, and in the past 2 months have been working for nothing at all. We are not receiving sponsorship to stay away from work, as some have purported. We have been raising funds amongst ourselves to support each other. We are now at a stage where, as in biblical times, Pharaoh has taken away the straw and water and is demanding the same quota of bricks. We are not slaves. We are not greedy mercenaries. We deserve proper tools of the trade, a living wage and a safe working environment. The citizens of Zimbabwe deserve a health system they can trust.

Source: Zimbabwe Senior Doctors Hospital Association (SHDA)

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