PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been accused of ignoring the plight of striking nurses and other health workers leading to a “silent genocide” at public hospitals.
The situation has been exacerbated by the shake-up at the Health ministry which saw minister Obadiah Moyo sacked, permanent secretary (Agnes Mahomva) reassigned and public hospitals chief executive officers fired, leaving the critical ministry on autopilot.
BY MOSES MATENGA/HARRIET CHIKANDIWA/BRENNA MATENDERE /VENERANDA LANGA
The Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) yesterday said after five weeks on job action, the government had not acted on their plight although the situation at the clinics and hospitals was now dire and people were dying from “avoidable” illnesses.
“As Zina, we are concerned about the silent genocide taking place in our hospitals while government remains silent as if everything is normal,” the nurses association said in a statement.
Despite the crisis in the health delivery system, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that had killed 28 people as of yesterday, the Mnangagwa administration is yet to appoint a Health minister and permanent secretary, making it difficult to effectively push for betterment of the health workers’ conditions of service.
Moyo was fired early this week for alleged abuse of office involving unprocedural awarding of tenders to companies involved in procurement of COVID-19 equipment and drugs while Mahomva is now in the President’s Office leading the fight against the pandemic.
“Currently, the most vulnerable members of society across the country are being turned away from hospitals because of the absence of services there and they are now dying in their homes,” the nurses said.
Scarier is the revelation that over 200 health workers, most of them student nurses, have tested positive to COVID-19, forcing some hospitals to shut down as the government continues to dither on its promise to avail adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We reiterate that the government is not taking its nurses seriously. Hopefully by the time it decides to act, things would not have gone irreparably bad.”
The nurses are demanding salaries in US dollars and adequate protective clothing.
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights secretary Norman Matara said there were verified reports of women dying while in prolonged labour, adding that the hospitals were in a sorry state.
“Hospitals are in a sorry state at the moment. Access to even emergency and critical care is now limited due to absence of critical staff. We have verified reports of women failing to access emergency obstetric care, resulting in maternal deaths, stillbirths and severe brain injury to newborns due to prolonged labour. We need the Ministry of Health and government to urgently intervene to avoid continuous unnecessary loss of human lives,” Matara said.
He said by not providing basic healthcare, the government was violating the Constitution that guarantees the right to healthcare.
Matara added: “Section 76 of the Zimbabwean Constitution which provides for the right to healthcare including access to reproductive services, basic healthcare services and emergency care is being torn apart and heavily violated. What is more worrying is the lackadaisical approach to this life and death matter by the government. There is no urgency at all in resolving the standoff between nurses and the employer. We really urge the government to quickly engage the health workers and address their genuine concerns. Our people are dying. We need to do better.”
Itai Rusike, the executive director of the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) said the situation in hospitals had been made worse by the striking nurses and more deaths had been recorded as a result.
“The prolonged strike action by the nurses has worsened the situation in our public health institutions causing untold pain, suffering, preventable and avoidable deaths,” Rusike said.
“Sadly this current situation in our public health institutions will negatively affect the community health seeking behaviour as people will get sick and die at home especially when they know that they will not get any services at the hospitals due to the non-availability of nurses.”
Rusike said the fact that the Health ministry was on autopilot was an indictment on the country’s leadership.
“That there is no Minister of Health to lead from the front to deal with the crippling industrial action by health care workers and the spike in COVID-19 cases is worrying. The permanent secretary (Gibson Mhlanga) is also in an acting capacity with limited authority to decisively deal with issues or make critical decisions for over a month. (This) is a huge indictment on the country’s leadership,” he said.
Rusike lamented the avoidable deaths caused by government’s failure to address health workers’ grievances. He said expecting mothers bore the brunt of a collapsed health system.
“Sending health workers to the frontline to manage or treat COVID-19 patients without PPE is not only callous but also the highest level of irresponsibility by the authorities. Considering this situation, CWGH calls upon the President to urgently intervene to ensure a speedy, fair and impartial procedure in resolving the current health crisis to avoid further loss of lives, a situation which has further been worsened by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which is already spiralling out of control.”
Acting Health minister Amon Murwira yesterday told Parliament that government fired hospital executives due to lack of innovativeness which has resulted in the country importing drips worth billions of dollars and other sundries that could be easily manufactured locally.
“The problem of the health sector in this country has been a configuration problem and it is the way the whole system is arranged. You can have four fat and fit oxen but if they are to plough they need a yoke so that you drive them in a certain direction,” he said.
“There has been a lot of toxicity over many years in the Ministry of Health where we have experts and experienced clinicians in this country, but they buy everything from what they wear, bed linen, clinical material — and we do not manufacture anything in this country and it becomes a buying ministry and we spend billions of US$ buying drips, sheets and putting them on big planes to this country,” he said.
Murwira said there was need to re-look at the health sector and to reconfigure it so that all the money spent on imports could be used for developmental purchases.
“Procurement has become a business in this country and it means there are leakages in what we are buying. We have to be serious. We know that the CEOs have been relieved of their duties because it is part of re-organisation … We are trying to reconfigure the Ministry of Health for its efficiency and save ourselves. We have a ministry that spends US$ billions importing everything.”
On PPE for health staff, Murwira said they should be prioritised since the workers were protecting others from COVID-19 so they should be protected too.