<strong>HARARE</strong> - The current strike by senior medical personnel at public hospitals has seriously affected the country's public health institutions forcing Parirenyatwa and Harare Central hospitals to suspend a number of services due to the absence of essential medical staff.</p>
“The Senior Resident Medical Officers (SRMOs) have gone on industrial action. The division of paediatrics has devised the following emergency measures to best provide patient care in his situation. Out Patient Department (OPD) and OI will close.
“Ward A2 casualty will close. Paediatric patients will be screened in the main casualty. A guard to be provided to the admitting ward as staff on duty have been threatened and abused by irate patients.
“Clinics with newly-born babies for referral to Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) must call the NICU doctor on cover before sending. All babies below 1 800g to be admitted directly into NICU, nurse on duty will admit and start therapy as per war protocols until doctor on cover attends to the patient.
“Babies who require review with minor problems will be seen in the post neonatal round only ill newborns to be admitted to NICU to wait doctor on cover review,” the hospital said in a memorandum circulated to staff.
The situation is no different at Harare Central Hospital where a number of wards have been closed.
Harare Central Hospital has been forced to devise an emergency plan to attend to critical cases.
“Due to the skeleton staff available the following measures have been put in place. C2 is closed to cold cases. OPD is closed. Casualty officers to attend to emergencies only and admit straight to the ward with a management plan.
“Medical students to see the patients in the wards. Call rooms to be made available. SHO (Senior House Officers) OI to participate in the emergency roster,” Harare Central Hospital said in its address to staff regarding the emergency measures.
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) defended the strike action by its members and said their demands were reasonable.
Doctors are demanding, among other things, an upward review of on-call allowance, want the government to honour its word to subsidise purchase of cars and the Health Services Board to urgently implement the agreed vehicle duty-free framework.
“The people should know doctors are tired of being away from the hospital, on strike over the same issues every year because the same individuals at the ministry of Health and Child Care are always not willing to solve the issues that matter.
“Are the people aware that their doctors use public transport to attend to dire emergencies because they cannot afford duty on second hand vehicles imported from Japan?
“Are the people of Zimbabwe aware that the doctors that treat the majority of our population in rural areas only get paid $16 each month as rural allowance? Are the people of Zimbabwe aware that the free healthcare for expecting mothers, under 5s and over 65 is meaningless in hospitals that have no fluids and drugs?
“Are the people of Zimbabwe aware that their government doctors get $1,50 an hour on-call allowance? For a 30-minute consultation, your doctor gets 75 cents bank transfer,” ZHDA said in a statement.
Mnangagwa’s government has so far not been able to end the myriad problems affecting the public health institutions.
Apart from having to replace old equipment, most State hospitals and pharmacies are struggling to stock drugs due to poor planning and failure to access foreign currency from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) for the importation of critical medicines.
Zimbabwe is relying on foreign imports for its drugs, equipment and hospital consumables and imports over $400 million worth of basic drugs each year.
The importation of drugs and essential medicines has been further worsened by the troubles at the country’s biggest pharmaceutical company — CAPS Holdings — which used to satisfy 75 percent of the country’s market.
Due to the worsening shortages of currency, hospitals have been experiencing shortages of oxygen.
The shortage of oxygen comes as doctors are battling to contain the outbreak of bronchiolitis which has seen a surge in the number of children seeking treatment.
Last year, most hospitals struggled to stock critical drugs and vaccines.
Thousands of newly-born babies faced significant health risks after the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, which prevents infants from contracting tuberculosis (TB), was temporarily in short supply.
Newly-born babies are vaccinated with BCG to prevent them from contracting TB, which is listed among the top six infant killers in the country.
In 2016, major referral hospitals also had to suspend many services as a result of the shortage of drugs, including painkillers — exposing how much things had fallen apart in the country since the early 2000s.
United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) and Harare Central Hospital were among the major health facilities that had to suspend normal services as a result of drug shortages, including pethidine — a synthetic compound used as a painkiller, especially for women in labour and during caesarean operations.
And Binga District Hospital, which is situated in one of Zimbabwe’s poorest regions, was also forced to scale back its services as a result of water and electricity shortages.