NURSING a swollen face, with eyes blinded by the soreness, Clayton Banda (35) lay helplessly on the hospital bed, his lower body covered by a threadbare orange blanket.
Banda was involved in an accident on Monday evening when a commuter omnibus which was transporting him home from work rammed into a bus along the Harare-Chitungwiza road, leaving him with broken legs and a scarred face.
A stretch of stiches ran across his right cheek, where a metal object had ripped flesh apart, while his multiple-fractured legs have been bandaged.
When the Zimbabwe Independent news crew spoke to him on Wednesday afternoon, this is the only form of medical attention he had received, apart from a daily dosage of pain killers, three days after his admission to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals.
For him to fully recuperate and be able to walk again, he needs attention from orthopaedic surgeons to treat broken bones, but has not found any such specialists as yet and still languishes in his hospital ward.
Banda’s predicament is shared by thousands of other patients admitted to public hospitals since doctors went on strike more than a month ago, pleading incapacitation.
Scowling in agony and struggling to speak, Banda leaves the task of entertaining the press to older brother George, whose face is punctuated by anguish and dejection.
“My brother was admitted here on Monday at around 10pm. At that time he couldn’t move or say anything. That night we were met with nurses who just gave him a bed and some pain killers and that was that,” George said.
“The only doctor who attended to him, a physician, came briefly at around 11am on Tuesday and ordered the nurses to bind his fractured legs with bandages and put him on a drip,” George added.
Because Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals lack adequate facilities, George said, the physician referred Banda to a local private hospital for a head scan to determine whether he suffered brain damage.
“I went to the private hospital yesterday to get a quotation for the procedure. They said it would need US$500 and I would also need US$150 for an ambulance to ferry my brother there. I do not have the money, but that is not even the worst part. The worst part is with doctors being on strike and we are likely not going to get much help in here. I cannot afford to take him to a private doctor,” George said, lifting a bottle of water from the bedside and placing it on his afflicted brother’s mouth to help him drink.
Without any hospital staff to bring food all day long, Banda has relied on water that day, hoping friends and relatives would bring something to eat on the next visiting hour.
Banda is one of four patients in the orthopaedic section at Parirenyatwa, all of them visibly in excruciating pain, as evidenced by occasional groans bellowing from the room.
Usually, at Parirenyatwa Hospital, between 12pm and 1pm, the hospital’s premises would be teeming with people visiting their loved ones, often with food supplies. The few who can afford try to brighten the sordid room with flower bouquets bought from vendors forming a bee line along the entrance of the hospital.
In one incident, only one person could be seen trudging along the whole corridor stretch, evidence that the institution has become forlorn. Some of the wards were actually deserted as the hospital has been refusing to admit more patients.
Since the doctors’ strike began on September 3 this year, the hospitals have been turning down patients and referring them to private practitioners and mission hospitals such as Karanda. But, not all of them really can afford to seek medical attention from private practitioners who are now charging for services in foreign currency.
Another sad story is that of Grace Chengeta (68) of Murehwa. A breast cancer patient, she arrived at Parirenyatwa on Friday last week seeking medical attention.
She, however, only managed to see a doctor on Wednesday, who immediately referred her to Karanda Hospital in Mt Darwin as there were no oncologists at Parirenyatwa.
“I came here on Friday, from my rural home in Murewa. I have an open wound on my right breast which has troubled me for months. Since I arrived, I had not been attended by any physician until this morning. When the physician examined me, he advised me to go to Karanda Hospital to seek medical attention as there are currently no specialists at Parirenyatwa because of the strike,” Chengeta said.
Contacted for comment, Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo referred questions to the ministry’s public relations officer, Donald Gwinji.
Gwinji said the matter is currently before the courts. “Government has taken the issue to the courts to determine whether what the doctors are doing is legal or not illegal. The mister has already issued a statement on that matter,” he said
Jestina Mukoko, human rights activist and the director of Zimbabwe Peace Project said government needs to prioritise in order to save lives.
“Government failing to be sensitive and offer doctors a reasonable amount of money has affected citizens’ right to health care. Clearly priorities are misplaced. We have heard, on several occasions, the minister of Finance saying we have a surplus, why is the surplus not being used to pay doctors?” Mukoko said. “We are seeing the use of a lot of money in areas that are not necessary, for instance, the United Nations conference; we need to put resources where they are most needed. The duty bearers cannot be firing and suspending people, the government is just being arrogant, and they need to pay doctors.
It is a double edged sword, we have the citizens’ right to health care Vis a Vis the doctors’ right to sufficient remuneration, the government needs to strike a balance,” Mukoko said
Tawanda Zvakada, acting ZHDA Secretary General said government is responsible the suffering that patients are currently enduring at hospitals. “It is unfortunate that it has come to that, the employer has put us in such a situation and has chosen to neglect our genuine plea. We no longer have means to continue subsidizing the employer; we have already taken loans and borrowed. If they capacitate us now we will report to work tomorrow,” Zvakada said.
Zvakada said the soaring inflation is further eroding their monthly income which is no longer adequate to pay rentals alone.
“Doctors have never been on strike but they are incapacitated since the third of September and nothing has changed so far. We are getting an average monthly remuneration of $1 800, and from that amount we are supposed to pay rentals which are on average $2 500. That $1 800 on its own cannot allow you to pay for rentals before we start talking of food and transport. It is impossible to report for duty,” he said.