THE country’s limping health industry is set for another gruelling battle to retain staff with reports that nurses are leaving en masse for Namibia, which is on a massive recruitment drive to beef up manpower in its health sector.
Poor remuneration and working conditions with no positive interventions in sight have forced several nurses to join the great trek to Namibia, where it is reported that a nurse is earning between R20 000 and R30 000 monthly.
Of concern is that specialised and skilled staff such as midwives and operating theatre nurses (OTN) are among those who are leaving the country mostly coming from public health facilities like Parirenyatwa and Harare Central hospitals.
I left (Zimbabwe) because despite serving my country in rural health facilities, my salary was pathetic and I was struggling to feed my family,” says Tsitsi who worked in Buhera for more than 10 years.
A friend told her that the Namibian government was recruiting nurses and she applied through an agency and left the country in December last year.
“I can afford to send money back home and all my children are in school. Their fees are all paid up. I am a midwife, but when I was in Zimbabwe, I was also supposed to join the rest of the nurses in the general wards,” she said.
Her issue of not setting up a separate specialised establishment for midwives was reiterated by the president of the Zimbabwe Confederation Midwives (Zicom), Lilian Dodzo, who urged government to consider separating midwives from general duties.
“The government should also increase investments in midwifery and grow the workforce. Our hardworking midwives, especially in public institutions continue to leave the country to seek better remuneration at the expense of the lives of women and their babies,” she said.
Countrywide there is a deficiency of specialists in nearly all areas of health. Hardest hit is the department of pathology, maternal unit and according to information from public archives of the ministry of Health and Child Care, there are only 48 public obstetricians and gynaecologists.
This is despite the fact that annually 2 000 women die from pregnancy and delivery-related complications in Zimbabwe.
A recent report by a health watchdog, Citizens Health Watch (CHW) revealed that a severe shortage of midwives at Epworth clinic had resulted in women giving birth on the floor.
This risks the life of both mother and child. CHW witnessed one woman who continuously, complained of abdominal pain with no hope of receiving attention as she had to wait for the nurses that had helped her deliver.
The country’s health delivery system crumbled in the 2008 economic meltdown, which was characterised by hyper-inflationary conditions.
Most public hospitals temporarily closed due to severe drug shortages, while skilled, but poorly paid health workers left the country.
Although most public hospitals have opened their doors again, the situation is still dire and many are operating below capacity. There continues to be drug stock outs in most major referral hospitals, while on the ground disgruntled staff is failing to cope with the overwhelming number of patients.
During a tour of health facilities in Chiredzi last year, nurses at rural clinics complained that they were overworked and yet they had an obligation to deliver quality services to patients.
They told shocking stories of how they assisted pregnant women to give birth under the small flickering light of a candle. Many clinics do not have electricity and they rely on candles.
The impoverished workforce has plodded on despite these dreadful conditions.
In Buhera Primary Care Nurses who only received 18 months training, are in charge of clinics as there is a critical shortage of qualified nurses.
For the past few years Namibia has been recruiting nurses and its health ministry entered into a memorandum of understanding with the government of Kenya, whereby nurses from the latter would work in Namibia for two years.
The Namibian newspaper reported last year that the Namibian government asked for 100 nurses and 26 doctors to help with the huge shortage of nurses in the country.
Health minister David Parirenyatwa has hinted that the government is seeking to recruit 8 000 nurses, but this is despite the fact 3 000 nurses are still jobless following a job freeze by the Treasury.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) secretary-general Enock Dongo said the conditions under which the nurses operated were deplorable and the remuneration pathetic.
“The nurses’ conditions of service need revisiting and that is what we are fighting for, a better package,” he said.
Commenting on reports that nurses were leaving in their numbers, permanent secretary in the Health ministry Gerald Gwinji disputed that large numbers were leaving.
“Our statistics do not support the claim that we are losing staff in ‘exodus’ pattern. The attrition is as per usual rates and cuts across all categories,” he said.
Gwinji claimed that if anything the nursing establishment was almost always full up and replacements to natural attrition loss have not been difficult.