OPERATIONS at Parirenyatwa and Harare Central hospitals yesterday ground to a halt after nurses joined the strike by doctors, with most wards at Zimbabwe’s two largest referral hospitals closed, increasing pressure on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration.
Public hospital doctors have been on strike for over a month citing poor working conditions and remuneration and yesterday, nurses joined the job action citing overwork and “incapacitation”, catching authorities by surprise.
Zimbabwe is dealing with its worst economic crisis in a decade with inflation nearing 300% in August and rolling power cuts that have decimated key industries.
The country is also dealing with a shortage of local cash and hard currency, fuel and basic goods such as bread.
Yesterday, several wards at the public health institutions were abandoned, while others had been closed in the absence of key personnel, crippling operations at the institutions that were already struggling with shortages of medicines.
In a dramatic move, nurses at Parirenyatwa started toyi-toying in the hospital corridors, leaving authorities dumbfounded.
Although the nurses signed up on the 60% increment offered by the State last week, they claimed that the prices of basic commodities had more than doubled, rendering the increase useless.
On Wednesday, State-owned power utility Zimbabwe Electricity and Transmission Distribution Company raised electricity tariffs by 320% from 38,61 cents to 162,16 cents.
In August, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube raised the cost of government services by 500% in his mid-term budget review.
Zimbabwe’s health workers want their salaries indexed in United States dollars, a currency the government abandoned in February in favour of its local currency that has plummeted by 512% since.
“We cannot even afford bus fare to come to work. We beg for transport from good Samaritans, a situation which is humiliating,” one nurse said.
A senior nurse, who was also part of the group, said they were overwhelmed since the doctors went on strike and that patients were dying because the nurses could only administer care within their limited scope.
“The doctors have been away for over a month and we had to handle the patients on our own, but some cases require the expertise of a doctor. It is heart-breaking to watch them die,” she said.
The nurses said they often came to work on empty stomachs, but their employer was not taking them seriously.
Another nurse said they were exhausted and mentally unfit to give patients service that is up to the acceptable standard.
“Our families are at risk as well because infections like tuberculosis thrive in conditions such as the ones we are being exposed to,” they said.
Parirenyatwa hospital spokesperson Linos Dhire said the health institution management had engaged the nurses’ leadership and took note of their concerns.
“The major issues which they raised are outside the hospital’s jurisdiction. We have forwarded their concerns to the ministry and the Health Service Board for consideration,” Dhire said.
Opposition MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa made an impromptu visit to Harare Central and Parirenyatwa hospitals and demanded that Mnangagwa declares the health crisis a national disaster.
Harare Central is the busiest hospital in the country and reportedly treats over 1 200 in-patients and 900 out-patients daily.
Parirenyatwa attends some 1 000 patients daily.
Relatives of patients and nurses who spoke to Chamisa said patients who were admitted before the strike were dying because of lack of medical care, while those seeking help were being turned away because there were no doctors.
Chamisa described government’s response to the strike by health personnel as “soft genocide”.
A nurse who spoke to Chamisa on condition she was not named said they had collapsed three wards into one because there was no manpower at the hospital.
“New patients are not being admitted. Those already in the hospital have no medicines. No doctors are visiting them and most die not because they can’t be cured, but because there is no care. Now we have collapsed all three wards into one so that at least we can manage,” she said.
Susan Nyamakura, who was admitted at Harare Central Hospital on September 15 following a car accident, told NewsDay that she was yet to receive medical treatment.
“They told me the CT scan is not working, so I have to get to a private facility which is quoting in US dollars. The medication is also being sold in foreign currency, which I can ill afford and I am in serious pain. I need help,” she said.
Chamisa said the situation at the hospitals was dire.
“The health situation in the country is unhealthy and has become a national emergency. It needs immediate rescue measures that can be implemented as soon as possible before more lives are lost,” he said.
The MDC leader said his party would soon approach Mnangagwa to find a lasting solution to the problems facing the health sector and the country at large.
“I take it upon myself to make sure that I will do everything within my power to cause my brother ED Mnangagwa to see that this kind of a crisis, which is a political crisis, a crisis of governance, a crisis of leadership is costing people’s lives,” Chamisa said.
“The ordinary people do not have any other remedies, whereas those that are in leadership, those who are in government, who are in authority and power, who have access to mechanisms and other measures, would go to South Africa, would go to India and China yet they leave the taxpayers, the ordinary people who cannot have any other alternative, to die.”
Harare Hospital chief executive Tinashe Dobbie tried to eject Chamisa from the hospital premises, accusing him of not seeking his clearance, but was stopped by the opposition leader’s security.
Hospital security, however, blocked Chamisa and the media from entering other critical wards such as maternity section.
Health minister Obadiah Moyo referred questions to the ministry’s spokesperson, Donald Mujiri, who said he could not speak as he was driving.