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What's the plight of medical practitioners?

by Patrick Chapita (685 words)

More and more people in Zimbabwe are losing confidence in the government health institutions. This is despite the fact that the government's official policy is to encourage the provision of healthcare to all citizens. Our correspondent from this southern African state has the explanation.

The Zimbabwe government's official policy is to encourage provision of healthcare to all citizens. However, this has remained largely untenable as a combination of greed, intimidation and uncaring attitude towards work and patients by some health staff has resulted in considerable degeneration of medical services especially at the public hospitals.

Some doctors, both indigenous and expatriates at some government hospitals, are alleged to be reporting for duties only when they feel like. They never respond to calls when they are requested to attend to cases of emergency. Most of their time is spent on their personal businesses.

Nurses too show little, if any enthusiasm in their work, maybe because of their overwhelming workloads. Cases of harassment of patients by doctors and nurses are rampant, with the poor and the illiterate suffering the most.
The Minister for Health and Child Welfare, Dr. Timothy Stamps, who finds it difficult to explain the deterioration of health services at some government hospitals, says it has become a cause of great concern to his ministry and the people of Zimbabwe that while the government was putting more money in improving and providing healthcare service, there were some people who were bent on undermining this effort.

"This behaviour of leaving patients unattended to attend to personal business does not benefit people in the medical profession," says Stamps. "People are now losing confidence in using these public health facilities. Instead, patients now prefer to die at home without even seeking treatment at the hospitals."

A case in point is that of an expatriate doctor who works at the general hospital in Gwanda, some 600 kilometres South East of Harare. The town's local newspaper, Indonsakusa, recently reported that the doctor was called to attend to a patient who had been bitten by a black mamba. He failed to do so as he was watching an international soccer match between Zimbabwe and Namibia. The patient died.

"Surely, our general hospitals have become death traps," says Alex Mungoro, a relative to the man who died of the snake bite. "I tried to ask the staff nurse why the man died when we had brought him to the hospital in good time, having taken all the precautions to prevent the flow of the poisoned blood, but the nurse turned round and retorted that she (the nurse) was the one supposed to ask such a question as I was the one with the patient".

"I felt like she had just called me a murderer," explained Mungoro. "These people are so rough."
For women in many parts of Zimbabwe, going to local clinics or hospitals has become a trial and tribulation.

Commenting on the same problem, one Harare woman, Pauline Chikwizo, noted: "I never ask the doctors or a nurse at government hospitals what is wrong with me. I am very scared. I just take the medication they give me and leave quickly."

She adds: "The nurses are very rude, making many people feel that they are better off in the hands of traditional healers. Although these public health centres have notices posted on the walls requesting patients to report ill-treatment to the matron-in-charge or the hospital superintendent, many people do not do so because of fear of victimisation.

"The notices are there but we have no confidence that the superintendent or matron-in-charge can discipline the culprits. Instead, the one reporting is likely to be victimised and may never use the hospital again.

Many patients now prefer private medical institutions because they are more welcoming. Others are resorting to traditional healers whose charges are minimal.

"There is nothing we can do. People cannot go to a 'death trap' knowingly. It is better to die at home", said Chikwizo.
However, it seems there is light at the end of the tunnel for the poor patients as some local Non-Governmental Organisations such as Christian Care have taken up the task of bridging the gap between health workers and the public. In workshops they have conducted around the country, they have tried to sensitise the health workers to the plight of the suffering public.


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