Erratic water supplies to hospitals countrywide have created a health time bomb, in some cases patients, including expecting mothers, forced to bring their own water to the institutions.
By Phyllis Mbanje
The situation is most dire at Harare and Parirenyatwa Groups of Hospitals in the capital city.
Experts say health institutions without running water should be shut down in accordance with international law.
There is growing concern that there could be serious disease outbreaks at the two institutions if the situation is not urgently addressed.
The unreliable water supply has virtually paralysed operations, forcing relatives and friends of the patients under hospitalisation to bring water from home for bathing and drinking.
A visit by The Standard to the two health centres revealed a sorry state especially in the paediatric, surgical and maternity wards. Toilets at both institutions emitted an overpowering smell while others had overflowing days-old faecal matter.
People who visited the toilets could be seen covering their noses due to the unbearable smell. Many who had come to visit their sick were using their own water to wash their hands after visiting the toilets.
“It is very difficult to carry water to the hospital every day for the patient to bath so we have now resorted to dry washing as an alternative. A 20 litre bucket will last a week,” said Ropafadzo Dhirau from Harare’s Manresa suburb.
Dry washing is a method of bathing which saves water by only focusing on certain parts of the body but is grossly inadequate in hospital situations.
Dhirau’s mother has been in Parirenyatwa Hospital for more than a week and the family has been taking turns to bring water.
However, a security guard at one of the entrances said it was illegal for people to bring water into the hospital.
“It is not permissible to bring water into the hospital and we turn back those who try to smuggle in water,” she said.
But The Standard witnessed many people scrambling for the few taps outside and carrying buckets into the hospital.
“The staff tries to fill up some water containers and when patients bath they do not throw away that water, instead they use it for flushing the toilet,” she said.
One toilet in a paediatric ward A3 at Parirenyatwa was swarming with flies attracted by human waste and the resultant smell. There was great concern among relatives as children have been known to be susceptible to infection.
“My niece was throwing up on Thursday and I could not get water to mop up the vomit and ended up using my wrapping cloth to clean the surface,” said Mbuya Fushai from Murehwa.
Harare Hospital clinical director, George Vera said the institution’s plight was most desperate because it was built on high ground.
“Those who are in low lying areas like Rugare are in a better situation than us who are on higher ground. We have boreholes but they are not enough,” he said.
Vera said the combination of over 5 000 staff members and the many visitors who pass though the institution overwhelmed the few boreholes.
“There are plans currently to build a reserve tank and engineers have been on site doing their assessments,” he said.
Parirenyatwa Hospital chief executive officer, Thomas Zigora said the hospital was affected by the water crisis “just like the rest of the city”.
“If you are affected at your house then it should not be any different from the hospital. It’s not an issue in isolation but it is being experienced everywhere,” he said. “If you want clarity about the water situation go to the city council.”
He said it was not newsworthy that the hospital had no water even though the situation could result in the outbreak of diseases.
Zigora said the hospital had a couple of boreholes and a reservoir.
“We have our back-up plan in the form of boreholes and a reservoir.” he said.
But Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) chairperson, Dr Rutendo Bonde said according to international by-laws a health institution which does not have running water should be closed.
“There are many health risks involved such as cross infections, and incidences of what is called nosocomial infections,” she said.
Nosocomial infections are hospital acquired infections that can be passed on from one person to the other.
Bonde said routine medical checkups would be compromised in the absence of water.
Diseases that can be acquired from these infections include pneumonia, urinary tract complications and many bacteria-based diseases.
“The toilets are the breeding grounds for these infections because people will use them to relieve themselves and cannot wash their hands immediately until they get home,” she said.
“These infections are difficult to treat and do not always respond to antibiotics,” she said.
Most suburbs in Harare and Chitungwiza have been receiving erratic water supplies for several weeks now. Residents are getting water from makeshift open wells, burst drainage pipes and even from nearby rivers.
Suburbs that have also been hard hit by the water crisis include Mabelreign, Ashdown Park, Westgate, Kuwadzana, Warren Park, Waterfalls, Prospect, Msasa Park, Mabvuku and many others.
The government recently scrapped water bills to ease the burden on residents who owed council thousands of dollars in arrears.
But hardly a month after residents celebrated the scrapping of the bills they now have to deal with the severe water cuts.
Harare City Council has warned residents to brace for more water woes this season due to high demand coupled with failing equipment at most of the local authority’s waterworks.