P ublic hospitals are operating at 40% capacity weighed down by lack of consumables, breakdown of equipment and an exodus of skilled personnel, a parliamentary portfolio committee heard this week.
Zimbabwe’s health sector was thrown into disarray last year after doctors went on strike citing incapacitation and lack of consumables at the country’s public hospitals.
The doctors trooped back to work last week having been on strike since September. Doctors told the parliamentary portfolio committee on Health and Child Care that working conditions have not improved at public hospitals.
The committee, which is chaired by Ruth Labode, toured Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and Sally Mugabe hospital.
Shingai Nyaguse, Senior Hospital Doctors Association president, told the committee that medical practitioners were still seeking a quick return to normalcy at the hospitals for them to fully carry out their duties.
She said hospitals have drastically reduced the number of critical care beds that can be used causing “avoidable loss” of lives and exposing doctors to “unwarranted blame by patients and their relatives for the loss of loved ones”.
“As an example, Parirenyatwa Hospital reduced its adult intensive care unit (ICU) beds from nine to three, Harare Hospital from 10 to two while Mpilo Hospital is operating on two adult ICU beds and United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) has one ICU bed being operated on a borrowed machine.
This has drastically reduced the number of major operations that can be done and made operating on elective cases nearly impossible,” Nyaguse said.
“Doctors work as a team. Senior doctors need junior and middle level doctors to be able to function well.
They are also incapacitated. Their incapacitation needs to be resolved. The public health facilities of Zimbabwe are currently not fully operating because of the current state of incapacitation of both the doctors and the hospitals.
We are operating at 40% as compared to 70% during prior to the strike by doctors.” She said hospitals have run out of essential drugs and sundries turning the working environment as “unsafe for both the patients and the doctors”.
“The hospitals have run out of consumables and drugs; and equipment is broken down or obsolete.
Even syringes, gloves, and basic bandages like plaster of Paris have run out and there seems to be no effort to restock. Improvising had become the order of the day till it could not be extended further.
Important hospital machines such as monitors and suction machines are broken down,” Nyaguse said.
The hospital, she said, had run out of clean water leaving doctors to resort to “the bucket system when preparing to carry out operations in the operating theatres” adding that the practice is associated with a high rate of infection – post operation.
She said the standard hospital operating systems were being replaced by dangerous experimentations of the Flexi hour system in health care workers.
“The patient is coming to a hospital with erratic nursing services because of the Flexi-hours system that has been implemented by the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
This has left the doctors and the hospitals incapacitated. The hospital working environment has now turned to be unsafe for both the patients and the doctors alike,” Nyaguse said.
“We have communicated with the hospital authorities and with the Minister of Health and Child Care and we have been told the system was put in place to cushion workers and increase the buying power of their salaries.
The Minister has insisted that the system shall continue despite us telling him it is killing patients. This is an unacceptable experimentation with human life.
We have made it very clear that senior doctors do not want to return to work in the current Flexi-hours system.
The health care workers must be capacitated enough for them to be able to come to work in some standard shift system that promotes good patient care.
The flexi- hour’s system in the way it is being implemented in public hospitals is a patient killer.”
Doctors returned to work after Econet Wireless founder, Strive Masiyiwa introduced a fellowship programme for doctors under the Higher Life Foundation to ensure that healthy and resilient communities is achievable through the availability of doctors.
Terms of the fellowship, which is six months long, include monthly subsistence allowances ranging from ZWL$5 000 for senior resident medical officers and junior resident medical officers to ZWL$10 000 for senior consultants.
Most doctors agreed to sign up the contract and have resumed their duties. Health and Child Care deputy minister John Mangwiro admitted that the health sector was facing challenges that needed all stakeholders to work as a team.
“I know the challenges we are facing as government we are committed to address them and this week our ministry has been asking for funds from the treasury for the health sector and that government can employ more 700 nurses to ease the staff shortages,” Mangwiro said.