The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes that unsafe patient care is among the leading causes of both morbidity and mortality in the world. Vice-President and Health minister Constantine Chiwenga was recently in Switzerland for the Global Patient Summit, with about 80 other ministers of health drawn from the globe.
The Montroux Charter on patient care was endorsed and it seeks to strengthen patient safety and thus eliminate preventable deaths in hospitals. In the year 2007, WHO came up with an analytical framework to describe health systems which emphasise that the strength of health delivery service depends on the integration of building blocks which are a health workforce, service delivery, information systems, medical products, financing and leadership.
The unavailability of one pillar of the building blocks leaves a shaky and unstable building that has potential to collapse.
Many people grumble about the quality of health service in the public sector in our country. Some patients end up seeking medical care from outside the country and South Africa is the preferred destination for many. Zambia is also playing a part as well as Zimbabweans travel there to seek special services like radiotherapy for cancer treatment.
Our public health institutions have been deplored by many as they fail to meet the expectations of the patients. Our country trains some of the best healthcare workers in the world and has thus become a hunting ground for health personnel. Healthcare workers are leaving in droves for greener pastures. The United Kingdom has benefited immensely from the brain drain and between 2019 and September 2022, the number of Zimbabweans granted work visas to work in the UK went up by 1 576% from 499 to 8 363. Economic meltdown is pin-pointed as the major push factor and if it remains unabated, there is a risk of further serious worker turnover in the near future.
Government should appreciate some simple facts which can improve patient confidence in public health institutions. Medical service accessibility is gradually becoming a taboo for many people as health facilities lack basic items or services — a situation which can be corrected easily with minimal political will.
Zimbabwe has great potential to spruce up its image medically if some of the following facilities and services are availed at hospitals:
Basic functioning X-rays and ultrasound scans in hospitals even at district levels. We have many hospitals where such facilities are a nightmare, yet it costs less than US$50 000 to acquire one X-ray machine. One can get a good ultrasound scan for less than US$10 000. How come hospitals do not have such facilities yet they are required on a daily basis? Where are we going wrong as a nation?
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Computed Tomography Scans (CT scans) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans at referral centres
It’s quite disturbing to note that many people are forced to go for CT scans or MRI scans in the private sector where they are charged exorbitant prices because our public institutions do not offer such. Why are we demeaning ourselves as a nation by merely not availing such facilities as CT scans which are needed on a daily basis? At one time, Sally Mugabe Central Hospital had a CT scan but without a permanent radiologist to interpret the scans. This is astounding to say the least.
Radiotherapy machines should be available. Cancer is treated through surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is applied in order to shrink cancer cells and failure to access such services means the cancer can grow with speed.
Our radiotherapy machines have experienced incessant breakdowns and many lives have been lost in the process. Can the whole nation fail to establish a reasonable number of radiotherapy centres to serve as many patients as possible. Provincial hospitals like Gweru, Chinhoyi, Masvingo, Marondera, Bindura should have their own radiotherapy machines. Many people are now flocking to Zambia’s University Teaching Hospital (UTH) to access radiotherapy.
Availability of power back-up at public hospitals
It is calamitous if a power outage is experienced at a health facility without a reliable back-up. Imagine having patients on theatre tables, intensive care units, in elevators and there is a sudden power cut when there is no back-up.
Hospitals and clinics should have reliable stand-by generators or solar systems to sustain the entire facility in times of power outages.
Availability of simple sundries to use like gloves, syringes, needles, cannulae, bandages is critical. Why are we shaming ourselves by not stocking such small items as a nation? Those who are calling the shots in administration should prove their mettle.
Zimbabwe has potential to deliver quality healthcare. Those who sleep on duty should be reminded that if they can’t shape up they should ship out.