Zimbabwe health service has collapsed - doctors' group

Updated: 2007-06-05 01:23
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Zimbabwe's health service is no longer in danger of collapse, but has collapsed, a doctors' group said Monday.

"It's chaotic. Don't get sick right now," said one Zimbabwean doctor who asked not to be identified as strike action left sick and infirm patients at a main government hospital Monday uncertain they would get attention, even for minor ailments.

Some drifted away from the outpatients' lobby at Parirenyatwa hospital in Harare as work stoppages by junior doctors, nurses and hospital staff over pay and deteriorating working conditions continued and were spreading.

Doctors and staff who showed up for duty were overwhelmed and could not bridge the gap left by striking colleagues, hospital officials said.

A doctors' group said Monday the government had failed to "address the prevailing emergency in the public health sector."

The Zimbabwean Association of Doctors for Human Rights said the crisis left all the nation's major referral hospitals unable to function.

"It can no longer be said the health service is near collapse. The emptying of central and other hospitals of staff, and therefore patients, means the health service has collapsed," the group said in a statement.

It said even if staff were not on strike, most could not afford transport fares to reach their posts that now exceeded monthly incomes.

Several other clinics and public health facilities were also affected by strike action that has been sporadic for the past month. Zimbabwe is also facing acute shortages of drugs and basic medical equipment.

The gasoline price rose last week and commuter bus fares generally doubled. From Monday, a hospital cleaner earning the equivalent of about US$25 (euro18) a month, less than one dollar a day, expected to pay up to US$3 (euro2.30) a day on transport to and from work.

Business executives also reported growing absenteeism.

The doctors' group said absenteeism by doctors and health staff in the same predicament across the country was causing loss of life. No details of increased deaths were immediately available.

Hospital officials, however, confirmed details of the reported case of a 50-year-old woman who was admitted to one state health facility on Wednesday after falling and dislocating her hip.

She was discharged Friday without being examined by a doctor and told go to a functioning private medical practice _ and there were other cases like it, said officials not permitted to speak without authority of their superiors or be identified.

Health Minister David Parirenyatwa, after whose father the main Harare hospital was named, acknowledged Monday the government health service was broke and appealed to businesses and corporate interests to "rescue" it, the official Herald newspaper reported Monday.

"It is a question of social responsibility," he told the newspaper, a government mouthpiece.

He said many key Zimbabwean medical professionals found jobs outside the country after suffering "burn out" caused by watching helplessly as patients suffered or died through the lack of staff, medicines and equipment.

Zimbabwe is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, with record inflation of 3,714 percent, the highest in the world, and severe shortages of food, hard currency and gasoline.

The brain drain of experienced medical staff "seriously compromised" the health service which itself lacked enough working ambulances and other transportation for the sick, Parirenyatwa said.