Zimbabwe’s stigmatised, poorly paid nurses demoralised

By Nyaradzo Nyere

Muchaneta, a junior nurse at a Harare hospital, goes to work every day to face the dire situation in the health facility’s wards caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In April 2021, she contracted the coronavirus, but was lucky to survive.

Muchaneta, who  prefers to be referred to by her first name only for fear of losing her job, said she felt unappreciated by society.

“It’s been a difficult time filled with a lot of stigma, rejection and discrimination because of our profession,” she said.

“It has also been difficult and emotionally draining as people are sick and others are dying, and we are witnessing that on a daily basis.”

Enoch Dongo, Zimbabwe Nurses Association president, said members of his organisation have been stigmatised for treating Covid-19 patients.

Dongo said nurses also deserve to be given better remuneration because of the risks they take in handling patients that test positive for the disease.

“The coming in of Covid-19 has changed the environment, it has changed the normal working environment that we were used to and this change is affecting the health workers and the nurses really need the support of everyone,” he said.

“These are our soldiers that are fighting the pandemic. 

“So what it means is that they really need to be looked after, their welfare and whatever they their families need. 

“Most of the time you see  the community, they are not happy to deal with the nurses knowing that they are the ones who deal with Covid 19.

“That stigma really affects health workers. Sometimes they might not say it, but it affects them.” 

According to the World Health Organisation research bulletin, since September 2019, health-care workers in Zimbabwe that include doctors and nurses, have been engaged in intermittent strike actions to demand greater resources for the health system and increases in low salaries and allowances. 

“On 25 March 2020, the Zimbabwe Nurses Association went on strike because of a lack of personal protective equipment, unreliable water supplies and the need for a Covid-19 risk allowance,” the bulletin said.

“Workers felt undervalued and exposed, which culminated in a lack of trust that the health-care system could protect them from Covid-19.”

Dongo said working conditions for nurses have been deteriorating over the years and the outbreak of Covid-19 had made the situation even more difficult.

“Looking at the challenges of transport, nurses also queue for public transport because there is no specific mode of transport for health workers and that is a challenge,” he said.

“During lockdowns there are transport challenges, and one might need to use private transport, but no one wants to carry them.

“Even in areas where they stay they don’t have specific accommodation. For example, in the army or police there are barracks or camps where their members stay. 

“But for the nurses they are scattered all over in the high-density suburbs and they are using the same bathrooms with ordinary people and some of them are being sidelined and accused of spreading the disease.”

He said nurses were resigning from public health facilities to join the private sector or going overseas because of poor working conditions.

“There is no personal protective equipment, (nurses) are testing positive (for Covid-19) and some of them are dying, and it seems there is little that is being done by our government as far as looking at the welfare of the frontline workers is concerned,”

“In this war that we are in, the government needs to recognise the effort being put by the nurses in the fight against Covid-19,”

The Health and Child Care ministry did not respond to questions about the welfare of nurses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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