Health care crisis in Zimbabwe worsens as COVID-19 surges


The images of dead infants wrapped separately in green sheets and laid out in a row on a hospital counter have drawn public outrage. Seven of the eight births were stillborn in just one night last week at one state hospital in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.

Medical workers warned that the incident was just a tip of the iceberg of the dire state of health care in the southern African country.

Doctors attribute complications that lead to deaths of infants to difficulties by expectant mothers to access health care when needed.

The public health care system is teetering on the brink of breakdown with shortages of basic drugs and equipment and an overburdened and underpaid staff.

The root cause of the health crisis experts say is country’s wider economic collapse which has brought back hyperinflation, shut factories, pushed the official unemployment rate to an estimated 90 per cent.

Majority of the Zimbabwean population sink deeper into poverty and most are hardly able to afford a square meal.

The coronavirus pandemic has added to the crises.

Nurses countrywide have been on a go-slow for months demanding improved remuneration and coronavirus protective gear.

They have since been joined by senior and junior doctors.

Burying his agriculture minister Perrance Shiri, who died from coronavirus last week, Zimbabwe’s leader Emmerson Mnangagwa appealed to health workers in the face of the rapidly spreading pandemic.

The total number of diagnosed cases now stands at 3,659 with the number of deaths having more than doubled to 69 in 10 days.

“I call on our medical staff to act in the national interest and exhibit sense of responsibility,” said Mr. Mnangagwa in a eulogy on Friday (July 31). “Your grievances, which we acknowledge and continue to address, cannot be at the expense of the loss of lives.

“When the pandemic spreads and the death toll rises there are no winners, none at all. We all die,” he said.

But nurses who staged protests separately at major state hospitals last month have vowed not to backpedal until their grievances are addressed.

“Nurses are being infected everyday,” president of the Urban and Rural Council Nurses Workers’ Union Simbarashe Tafirenyika said. “We are being forced to wear N95 masks for seven days and surgical masks for three days yet we are supposed to use them once before we dispose them.

“We cannot continue dying and we will protect ourselves and families by staying home,” he said.

The country has had no substantive health minister for nearly a month.

President Mnangagwa sacked health minister Obadiah Moyo on July 07 after he was charged with corruption over the illegal awarding a US$20-million contract for coronavirus testing kits and protective gear.

The few staff reporting for duty at government hospitals that serve the majority of poverty-stricken Zimbabweans feel overwhelmed.

“The situation is of deep concern,” Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association head, Norman Matara told AFP.

“A brave doctor only managed to take that picture (of dead infants) but that is a very small number taking into consideration what is happening in other hospitals,” said Mr. Matara.

According to Matara, 15% of the national recorded virus infections have been detected among health workers.

“That’s a huge number. It shows that we are at high risk of getting infected as such we can’t continue working without protective clothing,” Mr. Matara said. (Source: The Straits Times)