Hospitals now death zones: Striking doctors

Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals’ paediatrics head Azza Mashumba explains the sorry state at the country’s biggest referral hospital with tears streaming down her cheeks yesterday

By Phyllis Mbanje

PEOPLE are dying from treatable diseases at government hospitals owing to the shortage of basic medical equipment, medicines and other accessories, senior doctors have said as shocking details over the deteriorating conditions in public health institutions emerged yesterday.

In a no-holds-barred meeting with Health minister Obadiah Moyo, senior doctors at public health institutions said they did not have medical basics such as gloves and painkillers, which has resulted in deaths from ailments that were treatable.

Senior doctors, who went on strike on Tuesday citing shortages of basic equipment and drugs, also blamed Zimbabwe’s slow tender system for some of the problems in the sector.

The meeting was also attended by Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals’ administrative staff.

“The tender process is costing lives, there are people just dying. There is no urgency, there is no priority, people are not listening to us. I have written a million lists, I have knocked on a thousand doors, I come to work and I do my very best, but my outputs are stillbirths, my outputs are disabled babies,” head of the paediatrics division, Azza Mashumba, said with tears flowing down her cheeks.

She asked the government to intervene because people who were not supposed to die ended up in coffins because of these shortages.

“We start them (patients) on chemotherapy and in two weeks, the syringes are finished. We interrupt treatment, then we restart and it doesn’t work. What have we done for them? There is no urgency, I am here because I am desperate. I have tried, we have tried, but I feel we are not being heard. We need to move … we are not working,” she fumed.

It also emerged that nurses in the burns unit were being forced to recycle used bandages, risking infections from other diseases.

“At the burns unit, there are no basic sundries and medicines. We have no bandages; they wash bandages and hang them in the bathroom and reuse. Obviously, they are not sterile. We have seen so many infections in the burns unit,” Faith Muchemwa, who specialises in reconstructive surgery, said.

Babies are failing to get basic medicines like painkillers while in hospital, resulting in most of them crying throughout the night, a situation the doctors said was nothing short of cruelty.

“The health personnel have no protective gear to prevent cross infections. This is despite the fact that we are dealing with open wounds and puss. Patients are dying more than ever because we are operating once every two weeks,” Muchemwa said.

Mashumba said the fact that nurses were coming only three days a week was compromising the lives of babies.

“This is not acceptable. We need action,” she said.

Cancer patients were also getting a raw deal, with many failing to pay for tests, which would speed up initiation on treatment. The doctors also said there was now need to rationalise resources and prioritise the little resources available towards provision of proper health care.

“What we are saying, minister, is that we know the problems we have in the country and (the shortage of) foreign currency affecting us. Why don’t we rationalise the little that we have? It’s us the consultants who know what we need,” David Chimuka, a cardio thoracic surgeon, said.

He also said they were riled that they were not being appreciated enough.

“I have worked many years. I am not paid on call (allowances), like the government hospital staff. We are offering beautiful services to Parirenyatwa,” he said.

Parirenyatwa chief executive Thomas Zigora said the institution was aware of the situation and was trying to resolve it.

“There are specific issues like surgical supplies. I indicated steps had been taken. There is a list of medicines urgently required like morphine and pethidine. I have indicated to the consultants that we have placed orders,” he said, citing the issue of foreign currency shortages as a major challenge.
Moyo said he would take the issues seriously as well as the suggestions, including firing hospital management if he had to.

“I am not supposed to be micro managing. We are supposed have management and administrators who are proactive and that is proper. I also find myself being frustrated sometimes and I end up doing management work, because of lack of response,” he said.

“Yes, the main issue is foreign currency, but there are means and ways we can be able to speed up issues. I want to say it very clearly at this institution … I have said I want a health care team who are well supported, a health care team who have paraphernalia to be able to look after patients … I was there as a CEO at Chitungwiza. I could hear everything everyday and take action, I would like the same here and at each and every hospital — and if we feel that we have to change management, we will do it and I will not waste time. I assure you,” he said.

The senior doctors at Parirenyatwa, Harare Central and Chitungwiza hospitals said they were now only attending to emergency cases and have not been doing minor operations since Tuesday due to the deteriorating situation in hospitals, less than two months after junior doctors went on a 40-day job action over similar concerns.

The junior doctors were later cajoled to return to work by those senior doctors after government infiltrated the protests and used divide and rule tactics, including threats of blackmail.

But this time, it is the senior doctors, who are now imploring government to honour its pledge to bring back sanity to the public hospitals.