By Nyaradzo Nyere
Strikes for higher wages and better working conditions by doctors and nurses, long queues of patients at hospitals, lack of equipment and administrative problems, characterised Zimbabwe’s health care system prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Health professionals say the pandemic has worsened the health care situation in the country.
Itai Rusike, executive director, Community Working Group on Health (CWGH), said the Covid-19 pandemic has abruptly undercut health gains made over many years, making it less likely for Zimbabwe to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 3 on health and well-being for all by 2030.
“The disease has stifled progress towards universal health coverage. Critically too, the disease has had a knock-on effect on livelihoods, pushed more people into poverty, food insecurity, amplified gender, social and health inequities hence increasing vulnerabilities of communities,” he said.
According to the United Nations Social and Economic Framework report, Zimbabwe’s health system is facing a plethora of challenges, including lack of resources.
“The health system is beset by periodic strikes by health workers over remuneration, low morale among the workers and poor working conditions… The Government (however), shored up some of the health infrastructure.
“Despite these improvements, it is expected that the health system will be overstretched should the pandemic escalate beyond the current level,” states the report.
Rusike agrees Zimbabwe’s health services were already broken and poorly functioning even before Covid-19.
The over-burdened health system threatens more than those who fall ill with Covid-19. Children and women in need of basic, yet essential services, are at risk of not receiving them due to reduced access.
Rusike said, vulnerable communities affected by Covid-19 are less likely to access quality care, and are more likely to experience adverse consequences of Covid-19 contained measures such as lockdown.
“This time when Covid-19 has shown the impact of health on all aspects of lives, is the time to address health concerns broadly taking into consideration underlying determinants of health.
“Safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, safe food, adequate nutrition and housing, healthy working and environmental conditions, health-related education and information as well as gender equality all of which are important if indeed we are to achieve the desired health outcomes and save lives.
“This calls for multi-sectoral approach to achieve efficient and affordable healthcare for everyone who needs it, wherever they are,” added Rusike.
stretched to the limit
Lack of staff for medical education training, and high drop-out rates in public sector health care posts have resulted in vacancy rates of over 50% for doctors, midwives, laboratory, and environmental health staff.
The Human Resources for Health Profile of 2009 further states that severe social and economic challenges since 2008 have resulted in unprecedented deterioration of health care infrastructure, loss of experienced health sector personnel, and a drastic decline in the quality of health services available for the population.
Dr Perseverance Chikide, a medical doctor working in Zimbabwe, said the pandemic has had an adverse effect because it caught the country at a time when the whole system wasn’t ready for a pandemic of such magnitude.
“A lot of people got sick at the same time and we needed the capacity to manage them all at the same time unlike other pandemics where people would get sick but not at the same time,” he said.
Chikide adds that Zimbabwe does not have enough of resources such as beds, human resources, equipment and PPC material. “It’s a problem all over the world because of this pandemic,” he said.
Rusike encourages the government to allocate additional resources for health to build a strong health system that is able to withstand current and future shocks.
“The resources should be spent in areas of health where they are needed the most to ensure highest impact. Some of the areas are in progressively building human capital for health, nutrition and education,” he said