The government is yet to release the diplomas of over 2 000 nurses it had bonded over the past two years as part of the national service they were required to render before seeking employment in the more lucrative private sector.
Most of the nurses had been forced to eke out for a living through other means like vending after Treasury directed the freezing of several posts because the economy was performing badly.
Some of the nurses said they had become a burden to their parents who still have to provide for them long after they had qualified. “I have been looking for a job, but with no success for two years,” said Patricia Chitongo, a graduate nurse.
Another nurse said the government was still holding on to their diplomas so they could not find employment in the private sector.
“We can not think of going somewhere else. The government bonded us, but they can not give us employment,” said one unemployed nurse.
Another qualified nurse, Chengeto Mapanje, said although government had indicated that they would be released from the bonding, they were yet to get their papers.
“We read in the newspapers that the government has promised to ‘free’ us, but up until now, we haven’t heard anything more from them,” said Mapanje.
Health and Child Welfare minister Henry Madzorera told Parliament recently that the government was releasing 2 000 nurses from the bonding scheme.
New nursing graduates and doctors educated through government grants must work for the Ministry of Health for a period matching the number of years spent in training.
Only after they have completed their contracted years will they be issued with their degrees and diplomas, releasing them to seek employment in private practice or emigrate.
But after the Ministry of Finance froze all new recruitment across the civil service, Madzorera told MPs it would be cruel to continue to prevent newly-qualified nurses from seeking jobs in the region and beyond.
“As a temporary measure, we have decided to release certificates of the bonded nurses so that they can seek employment elsewhere,” Madzorera said in response to a question by Mazowe Central MP Shepherd Mushonga.
He added: “This is temporary, we are not changing our policy, but we are saying since the Ministry of Finance cannot give us money to pay these nurses, then we have to release their certificates.”
In January this year, Madzorera floated an idea to approach regional countries in need of nurses for temporary placement while efforts are being made to resuscitate the economy and re-employ them.
“We might find ourselves with more nurses than we need, making some of those who we train redundant (which) makes it imperative to enter into a sort of agreement with some of our neighbours who need their services,” Madzorera said at the time. “We are thinking about it.”
Bonding was introduced in 2007 to retain medical professionals who were leaving the country due to the harsh economic climate at the time.
New graduates trained at the expense of taxpayers would simply pick up their certificates and move abroad, mainly to the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and neighbouring South Africa.
No mention was made of the fate of the graduating nurses as officials put more emphasis on channelling the funds towards reconstruction projects.
In June this year the then Zambian chief government spokesperson Ronnie Shikapwasha threatened to fire striking nurses in the northern country, saying there were scores of Zimbabwean nurses who were ready to assume nursing jobs in Zambia.
“There are Zimbabwean nurses itching to come and work in Zambia and so nurses who do not immediately report for work should consider themselves fired,” Chikapwasha said.
It is estimated that about 40 000 Zimbabwean nurses are working outside the country, leaving most hospitals in the country short-staffed, the hardest-hit being rural clinics that are reportedly operating without nurses, but limping through the voluntary help of nurse aides.
“We might find ourselves with more nurses than we need, making some of those whom we train redundant, which makes it imperative to enter into a sort of agreement with some of our neighbours who need their services,” said Madzorera.
The country’s health sector is said to be understaffed, but the government has reportedly imposed a cap on recruitment of nurses due to lack of funds although the ailing government managed to purchase luxury vehicles worth millions of dollars for ministers and their deputies.
The result is a dire situation where qualified nurses have struggled to get jobs as deficits in the health service bite, with many leaving the country because they do not have their diplomas.