BY VANESSA GONYE / Garikai Tunhira
TOUTS are usually known for their confidence, foul language and naughtiness, but recently, they sobered up when one of their own died right on the streets with his hospital record card in hand, after failing to get medication at one of Harare’s hospitals.
It was on a Wednesday morning, shortly before 8am, when one tout at the illegal Machipisa route pick-up point at the corner of Robert Mugabe Road and Chinhoyi Street, only referred to as Moyo, after having started the day normally, decided to take a rest and unknown to his mates, he was to breathe his last.
He became another victim of the prolonged impasse between doctors and government that has impacted negatively on the ailing health system.
“We have been aware of Moyo’s failing health for days now. Just yesterday, he went to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, but could not get treatment and today, he came early in the morning, during the peak period to try and work so that he could finance his planned pursuit of health services at a private institution,” recalled one lady, who for fear of being identified (as she trades in forex at that spot), declined to be named.
She expressed concern over the demise of the country’s healthcare system, as many people have had their health seeking behaviour tampered with due to lack of confidence in the system, which has been described as committing a silent genocide on the citizenry.
As Moyo was resting, he is said to have shifted position from the shop entrance to a more open space, right at the corner where he decided to lie down — for good.
When NewsDay Weekender arrived at the place after an hour or so, his body was still there, covered by a blanket, his hospital card on top of his lifeless body.
A crowd stood around him, with two female police officers trying to disperse them as they waited for their colleagues to bring a coffin.
Many berated the government’s “heartlessness”, while others blamed the striking doctors and nurses, who are demanding better salaries and working conditions in the ailing economy.
In an interview, Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) vice-president Masimba Ndoro said what is happening in the country’s health sector is a silent genocide, something they would never wish for their patients.
“It is sad this is going on and the relevant authorities are turning a blind eye,” he said.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike decried the current state of affairs in the health sector, where people are being deprived of their constitutional right to health, leading to situations where they die at home or in public spheres, including streets and buses.
“The advent of the new Constitution means that government, as the guarantor, must commit to uphold health as a human right and mobilise domestic resources to fund a health benefit fund that is accessible to all,” he said.
“It is unacceptable for residents to fail to access healthcare services and it is unfortunate that government has taken a lackadaisical approach in dealing with the situation at the health centres.
“One life lost is one too many; it is unacceptable to be in a State where people are collapsing and dying in the streets. This is a tragedy and it’s a shame and, unfortunately, the authorities are not taking this seriously.”
Rusike said what is happening in the health sector is an emergency which called for the intervention of the highest office to come and lead in the transformation of the division.
“My plea is, let us put patients at the centre of our dialogue. Just having the right to health in the Constitution is not enough, we need to see it practically,” he said.
‘No deal, no work’
While all this is happening, the striking personnel remain adamant, vowing not to return to work until they have reached a consensus with their employer.
In a recent letter, Zimbabwe Urban and Rural Council Nurses Workers’ Union president Simbarashe Tafirenyika urged responsible authorities to have mercy on the struggling council nurses and act on their pleas.
“Opening maternity areas won’t take long if you address our members’ concerns. They are willing to go to work, but they are severely incapacitated. Regard us as professionals. Remember, these nurses provide essential service to the city of Harare residents and general populace,” part of the letter from Tafirenyika read.
‘Too huge a crisis’
Zimbabwe has had strikes by health personnel, but this has been one of the worst and with downing of tools by the senior doctors bound to escalate the problem, it will be a crisis too difficult to contain.
Only time will tell the impact this has had on the people as a result of this strike, especially regarding death tolls and circumstances surrounding them.
Government recently responded by firing over 400 doctors for remaining on strike over incapacitation and poor working conditions and said they would re-advertise the posts.
Health rights activists, Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said this week ordinary citizens had been left with very limited options, including utilising unsafe and unregulated healthcare centres.
“For instance, the prolonged absence of healthcare professionals in the public sector (forces) pregnant women to deliver at home or outside the formal health delivery system. Such practices are harmful, and have immediate and long-term negative siquelae to both mothers and their babies,” ZADHR executive director Calvin Fambirai said.
The last Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey estimated maternal mortality of 651 deaths per 100 000 women.
Fambirai said failure to urgently resolve the health sector crisis is likely to further worsen this situation.
He called upon government to give priority to maternal health and other essential services through increased investment in the health sector.
“Staffing levels must be optimum, the morale and motivation of the professionals must be equally improved. ZADHR demands the reinstatement of all dismissed government doctors and the urgent attention to the incapacitated doctors’ demands,” Fambirai said.
Meanwhile, telecommunications mogul, Econet Wireless founder Strive Masiyiwa has thrown a lifeline to the doctors under a $100 million facility, which includes smartphones, diagnostic aides and transport for the doctors on top of a $5 000 salary.