ONE thing for sure is that the government has abdicated its responsibility over the health sector. This is mostly manifested in its approach to the grievances of healthcare workers, particularly nurses. The continuous industrial action by these workers indicates that nothing is happening in government hospitals and therefore for all intents and purposes the health delivery system has collapsed.
This week the government threatened to get rid of all nurses who are not reporting for work, and that is about all of them. This audacious announcement demonstrates a government that has lost all direction and cannot figure out how to solve the problem. It shows the government wouldn’t care less if its hospitals are shut down completely. Nurses are the most important cog in the machine as far as health delivery is concerned. Without them there is no system to talk about.
The importance of nurses has been demonstrated in the way Western countries in Europe and America are desperately recruiting nurses from countries such as ours which have decent nursing schools but are ill-treating their product. Indeed the number of nurses who have emigrated in the past year to fill in gaps left in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic is shocking. It is a wonder that some nurses have stuck around, but continually threatening them with dismissal surely demotivates them and will eventually drive them into exile.
Some would ask, “If the health delivery system has collapsed, how are people surviving?”
A parallel health system has emerged, thanks to Diaspora remittances and traditional cultural social nets that have always brought Zimbabweans together in the face of problems in families. But there are always exceptions; a huge number of people are not covered by these safety nets. It is these that still depend solely on government hospitals and clinics and, it is these that the government has let down badly.
The parallel system is damn expensive. The doctors who run these have discovered all the possibilities of making huge amounts of money by tapping into this grey market. They are aware, it would seem, each extended family has at least one member in the diaspora who can send money at short notice when a family member is taken ill. The whole private health system is extortionist and in rural areas private doctors have limitations such as lack of surgical equipment and medicines which have become inexorably expensive to acquire.
But the government has gotta do what it’s gotta do, and that is to find the money to resuscitate the healthcare system. The economy is performing badly if the acceleration of the fall of the Zimbabwe dollar is anything to go by. Many reasons have been proffered to explain this dramatic collapse of the local currency including, according Monica Mutsvangwa, “dark forces” that are weighing down on it. When the IMF special drawing rights were announced, the government promised that sectors such as health would be top priority. That has to happen now.