BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
THE untenable situation prevailing at public hospitals continues to unfold with reports that post-theatre patients have to bear immense pain in the absence of painkillers, while pathologists at times failed to perform autopsies because of the shortage of gloves.
Relatives have had to endure, not only the grief of losing their loved ones, but the long wait for the autopsies to be done.
Facilities like Harare Central Hospital have no ventilators which are used in the intensive care unit (ICU) to assist people in breathing when they are unable to do so or during operations.
According to senior doctors, an 18-year-old girl whose tummy was full of puss recently died when she could not be operated on at the hospital because there was no ventilator and efforts to transfer her to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals were futile because the institution had no space for her.
Gynaecological oncologist Bothwell Guzha on Wednesday told Health minister Obadiah Moyo during a protest staged by the senior doctors at Parirenyatwa that her death was a sad reminder of how ill-equipped the hospitals were.
“I couldn’t have the patient here because all four ICU beds were occupied, the girl demised. I also lost another 18-year-old girl who had cancer of the ovary. She stayed in hospital for five weeks I could not get theatre time and an ICU bed to operate on that young girl. She died,” Guzha said brokenly.
“I work in the gynaecological cancer unit; we do not have cancer drugs. They are coming to the tertiary institution to be treated, they go away and I don’t know where they are going. They are just going home to die.”
Guzha said he feels helpless when he examines patients and makes a diagnosis, but cannot proceed with further tests because the patients have no money for the mandatory fees.
“I see patients in the gynae out-patients. I do an examination as I am trained to do and I see a lesion there I can do a biopsy because the patient has to go and pay $25 and the patient does not have the money so they go home and come back after three months,” he said.
Guzha charged that the hospital is being run like a district hospital. He also complained about the few nurses available to care for the admitted patients.
“The government allowed nurses to work for three days. (One day) I went to the ward after an operation and I realised that three of my patients had received a single pain injection and I asked the sister why this patient had not been given and they told me that there were only two nurses that were attending to 45 patients,” he said.
“The situation is not workable. We are now sick and tired of these two-week solutions.”
Harare Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Christopher Pasi said they had been experiencing challenges with their ventilators.
“We had challenges for a week or so, but now we have managed to get two to function and expect more to be resuscitated,” Pasi said.
Following these revelations by senior doctors, health stakeholders and ordinary Zimbabweans have reacted angrily to the rot in the public hospitals.
International cricketer and former Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor tweeted, saying his employee had lost his new-born baby who was only three days old.
In an impassioned statement, Taylor said lack of resources at public health facilities was costing lives.
“Let us get out priorities right for goodness sake. I sincerely hope Dr Mashumba (head of paeds department, who broke down while giving an account on how babies were dying) is rewarded,” he said.
Community Working Group on Health director Itai Rusike said health sector financing should be revisited.
“If the country’s National Budget cannot adequately fund health, then there is need to find other innovative health financing strategies to domestically fund this important sector. This brings us to the issue of the health levy, which must be used to purchase medicines and sundries for the smooth running of the country’s health sector,” Rusike said.
“If there are no drugs, equipment and sundries in hospitals; where is the money collected under the health levy going? This fund must be used correctly, transparently and for its intended purpose.”