Junior doctors need professional recognition

Junior Doctors at one of Zimbabwe’s major health institutions, Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, on Monday started their strike and vowed to press on until their demands for better working conditions are addressed.

HEALTH and development have a symbiotic relationship, thus a healthy nation has high potential to develop.

Johannes Marisa

In 2007, the World Health Organisation (WHO) proposed a framework describing health systems in terms of six building blocks which include health workforce, service delivery, health information systems, essential medicines, financing and leadership.

A robust health system should always strive to make sure that the building blocks are in order. A well-trained health workforce is a pride of the nation.

Zimbabwe has trained some of the finest medical personnel who have traversed the world today.

In 1963, Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, became one of the most respected countries in Africa when the School of Medicine was opened.

Among our neighbours, Zimbabwe was the second to open a medical school after South Africa which started in 1918.

Zambia started in 1970, Malawi (1991), Botswana (1999) and Namibia (2009). Sadc has benefited from the health workforce coming from Zimbabwe.

The health delivery system was strengthened in our country but brain drain creeped in, leaving many hospitals unmanned.

During our days at medical school, we used to get payouts.

It was of course government money which many students never came to pay back until today. Government was investing in health. The question today remains: What then went wrong  resulting in a mass exodus of the cadres that government trained?

In 2020, the University of Zimbabwe churned out about 183 medical graduates with National University of Science and Technology (Nust) sending out about 24.

It is a pity today that the 2013 job freeze is haunting new graduates who are forced to hustle on the streets. Some of the graduates were absorbed into the system.

Each central hospital received about 16 graduates who are working as junior resident medical officers.

The numbers are significantly low considering the important roles that the junior doctors play.

If the country is not to compromise the quality of healthcare, especially at central hospitals, junior doctors should be in good numbers considering that they are the ones who man the casualty and outpatients departments.

All procedures surrounding the admission of a patient are done by these cadres, including taking blood to the laboratory and following up of results in order to expedite patient treatment.

I understand that there is a job freeze, nevertheless, the medical industry is a delicate one, hence it ought to have staffing levels that are prepared for any catastrophes.

In the midst of COVID-19, it is prudent for the country to have enough critical staff to avoid a quandary if things become worse.

The third wave is threatening to attack everyone in the world and Brazil is one country that has lost hope of COVID-19 victory as both morbidity and mortality are increasing everyday.

The monstrous virus is ravaging that country at an alarming rate, culminating in virtually all aspects of life being in tatters.

If medical graduates are allowed to roam the streets in a country like Zimbabwe where both the doctor-patient and nurse-patient ratios are very high, then we have to do introspection. Why should the country continue opening medical schools, yet the few available graduates are still unemployed?

Today, the country prides itself in University of Zimbabwe School of Medicine, Nust School of Medicine, Midlands State University and the new Great Zimbabwe School of Medicine. It is thus imperative to have junior doctors in place and ready to defend their country and it is my prayer that the following measures be considered as fast as possible if our health delivery service is to improve:

  • The Finance ministry should spare the health sector in terms of job freeze, especially considering the threat posed by COVID-19. The Health Service Board should urgently move in to sign in the new-now-old graduates. Rusting has not been good, so medical hazards should be avoided by continuous training of the doctors.
  • Provincial hospitals that have all specialities can absorb some of the junior interns. As per Health ministry’s expectations, all provincial hospitals should have specialists covering areas like general surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, anaesthetics, psychiatry, paediatrics. Interns can be trained in such hospitals and move to central hospitals for rare specialities like neurosurgery, cardiothoracic surgery, maxillofacial, urology etc. We need a brawny health delivery system that stands tall all the times.

Let us all value health. It is your duty to help the nearest health centre, tomorrow you will be admitted there. It needs you and me!