Shortfalls in Zimbabwe’s health sector was highlighted last Wednesday, when a man awaiting trial for stealing motor cycles turned up in court holding his protruding intestines in a plastic bag. Zimbabwe has suffered from years of decline in its once enviable health sector as health workers throng out of the country. According to the UN, the country would need "a massive financial investment" to revitalise the sector.
A Zimbabwean man awaiting trial for stealing motor cycles turned up in court last Wednesday holding his protruding intestines in a plastic bag after he had been shot by police during a raid and has been in remand prison for months.
But prison authorities who have, nonetheless, kept the presumed criminal in remand claim that man had sought medical attention on two occasions but each time he went to hospital, there would be no doctor. A situation that echoes the sad state of the Southern African country’s one time enviable health sector.
After years of having been plagued with numerous strikes and an exodus of doctors and nurses, as a result of the changing socio-economic situation, Zimbabwe’s health sector is far from recovery following a warning issued by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) indicating that the humanitarian situation in the Southern African country remains fragile.
Echoing statistics from last year which revealed that as many as 10 000 Zimbabwean nurses were working in Britain alone and about 80% of the country’s medical graduates were employed in other foreign countries, the UN report indicated that the country’s chronic vulnerability is "largely a consequence of the degradation in social services infrastructure”.
Indeed, health ministry statistics in 2006 indicated that fewer than one in four posts for doctors was filled, whilst four out of five of the district hospitals that served rural areas had no doctors. This contributed to
inadequate communication between health centres in rural areas and those at the district level during the cholera outbreak encountered between August 2008 and July 2009. The diminished capacity led to over 100 000 infections and about 5 000 deaths.
According to reports, the intensive care unit at the Zimbabwean capital’s Central Hospital was closed down in 2003, while its children’s ward was shut down in October 2008. And despite health partners’ continued support to contain disease outbreaks and other health issues in the country, the UN report says that "a massive financial investment" is required, particularly in strengthening the infrastructure”.
Meanwhile, observers have noted that Finance Minister Tendai Biti’s announcement last week that significant votes had been made in the 2011 budget for health and social protection programmes for the poor and underprivileged may have come at an opportune time.