SEVENTY-EIGHT-year-old Lameck Moyo (not his real name) lies restlessly on his bed at Harare Central Hospital as the unbearable pain in his left leg tears through his emaciated body. The painkilling medication he has been receiving seems to have gradually lost its efficacy, leaving him in excruciating pain most of the time.
This week marks the third month since Moyo’s admission at the crumbling government hospital, yet he is still waiting to receive the specialist treatment to heal a fracture of the femur (the bone which extends from the pelvis to the knee) on his left leg he sustained after a hard fall at home.
Since Harare Central Hospital does not have the machine to treat the fracture Moyo has been referred to Parirenyatwa hospital. But he remains at Harare hospital without a clue as to when his turn will finally come despite the constant pain.
Due to the extended hospital admission the visually-impaired Moyo finds himself having to deal with another challenge — that of bed sores that are making his life a nightmare.
“I just want to go home,” says Moyo who lies still on his hospital bed as any attempt to move his left leg is accompanied by sharp pain. “I am tired and the pain is unbearable. I don’t like the hospital food and I despair that my leg will ever be attended to anytime soon. It is better for me to wait at home.”
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent this week, Moyo’s daughter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, bemoaned the lack of urgency in the treatment of her father’s condition.
She said the family was told that their father’s injuries were delicate and that he needed to undergo surgery, but the only working machine at a public institution is found at Parirenyatwa hospital.
“Our father has been on the Parirenyatwa waiting list for past three months. He has had X-rays taken, but that isn’t helping much without access to the machine. To ease the pain he is getting a dosage of powerful pain killers which he complains are no longer effective. It’s painful to see him in such pain, but we have no option as we cannot afford private hospitals.”
“What makes matters worse is that the hospital is not providing any medication at all. We have to go and buy the medication at private pharmacies. Some of the medication is needed daily and it costs about US$25 for just a few milliliters. It’s really depressing financially,” said Moyo’s daughter.
Moyo’s case is microcosmic of the collapse of the country’s health sector, which has seen ordinary Zimbabweans failing to access urgent lifesaving medical attention for various ailments, let alone basic drugs. This has been worsened by the breakdown and shortage of critical life saving equipment at the country’s major government hospitals, as the economic decline take its toll.
There are several other orthopedic patients in Moyo’s hospital ward with different fractural injuries and like him, they have been waiting several months to be treated largely due to woefully inadequate equipment.
Most of the patients are so poor that they cannot afford to buy basic pain relief medications, and in some instances patients remained admitted for months after treatment due to failure to pay hospital bills.
A Harare hospital medical official said: “Theatres at government hospitals are overused due to the overwhelming number of patients. The equipment needs to be serviced, but that is not done on a regular basis due to lack of funding and the waiting list. So the machines end up breaking down. You find some surgeries at Harare hospital cost as much as US$3 000, but some patients leave after paying only US$100 making it difficult to maintain standards.”
“Certain tests need to be done before the operation, that is when one has a fracture, for instance, a full blood count and HIV tests. Some patients can’t afford them which then delays the operation until they raise the amount required. By then the waiting list would have grown.
Another source said due to operation delays patients risked pulmonary embolism (which is blockage in the lung artery) so medication is needed which is however costly for patients as it ranges from US$17-US$25 and has to be taken daily.
Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association president Fortune Nyamande said patients are also being placed on the waiting lists due to the shortage of specialists in the country. He said some provinces have just one specialist instead of the requisite 10.
“We have a serious shortage of orthopedic specialists in the country. In Harare we have about two senior consultants that work for government at Parirenyatwa hospital, and two for Harare hospital. In Bulawayo there are less than four. In other provinces it is even worse and patients have to be referred to Harare,” Nyamande said.
“These specialists end up being so overwhelmed with the number of patients who cannot afford private hospitals.
Patients can wait for even more than three months to be seen. In worst case scenarios, one can be seen after six months, which is really bad for their health as some will be in need of urgent operations and cash in advance is always demanded.”