VICE-President Constantino Chiwenga was confronted by legislators in Parliament yesterday over the mass exodus of nurses and other health professionals as well underfunding of the health sector.
Chiwenga, who also doubles as Health and Child Care minister, was quizzed over the sad state of affairs in the public health sector as it emerged that people in border towns were being forced to flock to neighbouring countries for treatment.
Mutare Central MP Innocent Gonese (CCC) said the brain drain in the health sector was shocking.
“Our doctors and nurses are leaving the country and one of the reasons is the issue of the poor health sector. A lot of doctors indicated that sometimes they do not have the tools of trade and these are some of the issues which we want an independent commission (to inquire into),” Gonese said.
Gonese was supported by Kambuzuma MP Willias Madzimure (CCC) who said: “The fact that our health workers are leaving the country in their numbers is an indication that something is not right. We cannot pay a blind eye to that. “
Madzimure and Gonese raised concern over the poor state of the health sector as they made their contributions on the Health Services Amendment Bill which is before Parliament.
The Bill seeks to align the Health Service Act to the Constitution.
It contains provisions that bar health workers from speaking out or engaging in job action for a period exceeding 72 hours.
Clause 5 of the Bill seeks to classify the health sector as an essential service. Unions representing health workers have dismissed the Bill as repressive and an assault on labour rights.
Madzimure added: “My plea is that let us use this Bill as a window of opportunity to make sure that we correct all the things that we have failed to do all this while as far as the health sector is concerned so that we retain the best brains.”
Parliamentary Committee on Health chairperson Ruth Rabode said there was need to redraft the Bill.
But Chiwenga said the Bill was necessary to address concerns of healthcare workers as well as to deliver the best health system in the country.
“When we say conditions of service, we are talking of accommodation, transport and salaries come at the tail end. We want to deal with what it is that the doctor or the professionals in the hospital wants,” Chiwenga said before pleading with the MPs to pass the Bill.
While Chiwenga was defending the Bill, it emerged that people in Mashonaland Central had resorted to seeking medical attention in Zambia and Mozambique.
Mbire ward 1 councillor Christmas Kachasu said: “They (people) are crossing over to the Zambian side and this is because of the cost of medicines and consultation fees which are a bit lower compared to those charged in Zimbabwe.
“The closest hospital we have is 140 kilometres away, and at the end of the day, people prefer to go to the other side of the border because it is about 12 kilometres to get to the waterfront and cross into Zambia and access the hospital.”
Chief Muzarabani, born Alfonce Chuzu, said: “The challenge is drugs here in Zimbabwe are expensive and are not easily found. In Mozambique and Zambia they have adequate medicines especially to cure rabies as most of the attacks here are from dogs and hyenas.”
There is no exact number of health professionals that have left the country in the past two years, but estimates from their unions put the figure at just over 3 000.
The country’s health delivery system suffers a myriad of challenges such as shortage of drugs after years of underfunding by Treasury.