BY TENDAI MAKARIPE
HEALTH workers, particularly nurses, are deserting public health institutions in droves amid a surge in demand for their skills abroad in a development that has further plunged Zimbabwe’s healthcare system into further paralysis.
Nurses in Zimbabwe are poorly remunerated as compared to their regional counterparts.
The Zimbabwe Independent can reveal the fresh wave of brain drain has been due to high demand in countries that lost their health workers to Covid-19.
Exasperated officials told the Independent this week that Sally Mugabe Hospital, the country’s second largest referral infirmary, had been the hardest hit, although the situation at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, Mpilo Hospital, and Murambinda Hospital in Buhera is equally worrisome.
Sources said nurses are leaving the institutions en masse in search of better opportunities locally and abroad.
Locally, private health institutions are extending lucrative salary packages to registered general nurses who are struggling to make ends meet from their paltry government salaries.
Currently, a qualified nurse is getting an average of ZW$33 000 (US$376).
Private institutions are paying between US$500- US$600.
A comparative analysis of nurses’ salaries in the region shows that Zimbabwean nurses are among the least paid in the region.
Nurses in Namibia receive an average monthly salary of NAD22 000, which is about US$1 472.
The average salary for a nurse in South Africa is R28 470, translating to US$1 887 per month.
The yawning gap has become a significant push factor for nurses to seek greener pastures.
“What I can tell you is that the figures are alarming. Nurses are leaving in large numbers and the government had to reintroduce primary care nurse training programmes to cover the gap,” an official source said.
“The number of those leaving is bigger than those currently enrolled at nursing schools. Many nurses are currently engaged with agents, writing International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examinations or organising for UK or United States jobs.”
The source added that the resignations were prompted by the government’s move to stop the paying of Global Health Fund-supported retention allowances in December.
The allowances, which were paid in US dollars, cushioned health workers for some time.
Instead of downing tools, nurses and other medical personnel have just decided to look for greener pastures and the emergence of health care professionals’ recruitment agencies owned by Zimbabweans in the diaspora has fuelled the resignations.
International recruitment agencies have been popular with nurses as they are facilitating career moves to the diaspora.
The recruitment process appears to be less strenuous with the agencies paying for visa and airfare expenses as well as quarantine costs when one gets to the UK.
The agency will, however, bond the applicant for about two years.
An entry annual salary of around £2 583 is paid to qualified nurses in the UK, which is about US$3 472.
While these deals appear worthwhile for nurses, they have left public hospitals bleeding and failing to cope.
A doctor based at Sally Mugabe Hospital said the situation is now unsustainable.
“There is a serious shortage of nurses here. People are leaving in large numbers and government is sitting on a health time bomb. People are demotivated. There is need for government to devise means to motivate people not to resign,” the doctor said.
He added that the rate at which people are leaving poses a significant threat to government’s efforts to fight Covid-19.
Contacted for comment, Health and Child Care deputy minister John Mangwiro referred questions to Health Services Board (HSB) chair Paulinus Sikhosana.
“The information you require is best supplied by Sikhosana. He is better positioned to comment on all matters relating to the recruitment and resignation of nurses,” Mangwiro said.
Sikhosana directed questions to HSB deputy director of public relations Tryfine Dzvukutu.
“Let me respond as soon as I get into the office. I am driving now,” Dzvukutu said.
However, subsequent efforts to get a comment were futile.
In her routine post-Cabinet briefing this week, Minister of Information Monica Mutsvangwa said: “Government is looking into sustainable ways of improving the conditions of service for nurses, doctors, and other health professionals. This is in light of the huge workload the professionals are burdened within this era of the Covid-19 pandemic.”