news in depth:BY NUNURAI JENA
A visitor to the immaculate Chinese-built Chinhoyi Provincial Hospital is often greeted by wailing voices of friends and relatives of the deceased.
In yesteryears, the institution, considered one of the best in the country in terms of facilities, would give hope to the hopeless as the provincial referral hospital accommodated serious cases from as far afield as Siakobvu in Kariba, Mudzimu in Hurungwe or Kanyaga in Makonde.
But that is all history as most patients now resort to traditional medicine for survival as the hospital has virtually closed shop.
Health workers at the institution were never associated with strikes like those in hospitals in bigger cities like Harare and Bulawayo, but it would appear times have changed.
A visit to the facility showed that the usually busy hospital is deserted after health workers, mostly nurses, went on strike over a month ago demanding salaries in foreign currency and the provision of personal protective (PPE) to handle Covid-19 cases.
The strike has paralysed the health delivery system in the province with thousands of sick people being turned away daily without receiving health care.
For Tonderai Maketa, a Chinhoyi resident from Chikonohono suburb, the paralysis of the health sector has become a life-changing experience after he lost his pregnant wife when she was admitted to the government hospital .
“I thought they were natural pains of a pregnant woman, but was surprised to be told that my wife had died some two hours after I left the hospital,” said a sobbing Maketa.
“They didn’t have the courtesy to inform me that night, but waited for me to come in the morning to be greeted with such devastating news.
“I never thought it could end this way. I still can’t believe my wife is no more.”
Maketa is not alone in this dilemma considering that more people are succumbing to various curable illnesses in their homes as the effects of the nurses’ strike are being felt across Mashonaland West, the catchment area for Chinhoyi Provincial Hospital
Insiders said most wards have been closed save for the maternity and casualty sections.
Other wards such as the surgical, medical, paediatric and private units have been combined for easy control with the limited personnel and resources.
A visit to the psychiatric ward showed that there was not even one mentally challenged patient and one nurse tried to downplay the situation, saying they were all asleep.
An elderly Matilda Karengesha said the hospital had now become a death trap as those admitted were just waiting to die or for God’s intervention.
“Only God can save my child. “No one is getting treatment at the hospital,” Karengesha said.
“They have been saying a doctor is coming for the past two days, but my son’s situation is fast deteriorating. There is no hope.”
A nurse at the maternity ward, who wanted to be identified only as MaDube admitted the situation was bad to the extent that pregnant women were being asked to bring gloves, cord clamps, razor blades and water to the hospital.
A mortuary attendant said the number of dead bodies he collected daily was now alarmingly high.
“The bodies I collect daily are unusually high these days,” he said.
“Under normal circumstances, I would collect one or two bodies a day.
“Sometimes I would go for a day or two without collecting a body, but this week (last week) it’s something else,” said the attendant, who cannot be named for professional reasons.
“I don’t know whether it’s Covid-19 or the nurses’ strike, but I have been collecting an average of four bodies a day.”
Acting Mashonaland West medical director Gift Masoja promised to give an overview of the situation in the province, but had not responded by yesterday.
But interestingly, Masoja wrote a memo last Friday recalling all nurses on leave.
“We have noted with great concern that quite a number of nurses are reported to be on vacation leave during the industrial action.
“Please can you kindly recall all staff members on leave during this period,” wrote Masoja in the letter addressed to district medical officers and medical superintendents.
But one of the nurses on leave said they would not go back to work because they were in solidarity with their colleagues on industrial action.
Some striking nurses are still to get this month’s salary and they view this as an attempt to force them to return work without their grievances being looked into.
The Zimbabwe Senior Hospital Doctors Association (ZSHDA) described the situation in hospitals as untenable after health workers downed tools.
“The situation in hospitals is untenable,” ZSHDA said. “Maternity units are running without nurses, patients are alone with students while their relatives are limited for visiting.
“Nurses cannot come to work. “No doctor can continue forever in the circumstances.”
Senior doctors gave a two-week notice to go on strike after they presented grievances similar to those presented by nurses.
The government is yet to respond to the demands, with less than a week to go before the senior doctors join other health workers in abandoning their posts.
A strike by senior doctors would virtually bring operations at the public hospital to a standstill.
They are likely to be joined by junior doctors, who gave the authorities a two-week notice to go on strike unless the government starts paying their salaries in foreign currency.
Zimbabwe’s health delivery system has been hampered by endless strikes in the past two years due to poor salaries and lack of drugs at public hospitals.
The situation has been worsened by the outbreak of Covid-19 that increased pressure on the already strained health facilities.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is accused of turning a blind eye to the mounting problems in the health sector despite the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases.
Doctors and nurses in the past two years have taken turns to engage in long-running strikes over poor pay and the deteriorating working environment.
In 2019, junior doctors went on strike for over four months until Econet Wireless founder Strive Masiyiwa intervened by offering to pay the medical practitioners US$300 a month.