Paidamoyo Chipunza Health Reporter—
Midwives at Harare Central Hospital are on strike following revelations this week by The Herald that Health Ministry directors are being paid hefty allowances out of a fund meant to benefit those who directly prevent maternal mortality. The Health Transition Fund was established in 2011 to – among other things – pay incentives to midwives but some senior Government officials have been dipping into it.
Student nurses are performing midwifery duties at Harare Hospital following the strike.
The midwives say their monthly incentives of just US$59 have not been paid since June last year, yet Health and Child Care officials and provincial medical directors were pocketing thousands of US dollars from the US$430 million HTF.
They are also worried about an acute shortage of blood and blood products for emergencies. The HTF was also set up to ensure a ready supply of blood and blood products.
Some directors were getting up to US$1 300 monthly from the fund while midwives – especially in rural areas – get nothing.
Official comment could not be obtained from Harare Central Hospital authorities by the time of going to print last night.
Hospital authorities are said to have instructed clinics not to send any cases to the referral institution and instead direct traffic to Parirenyatwa and Chitungwiza hospitals.
Harare Central Hospital caters largely for low-income earners.
The striking midwives wrote to Health Secretary Dr Gerald Gwinji saying women who lost blood during delivery were dying after failing to buy units for transfusion, which costs about US$200 per pint.
They said they were psychologically tormented by the situation, especially knowing that there was a special fund to save lives and address such issues.
“Many mothers are dying due to post-partum haemorrhage, which can be avoided if blood is made available,” they said in their letter to Dr Gwinji.
“Secondly, we are deeply concerned with the gap between directors receiving US$1 300 monthly and midwives receiving a mere US$59, which is paid half-yearly.”
Zimbabwe Nurses Association chairperson for Harare Mr Enock Dodzo said they had received communication from their members about the strike.
“Our members are traumatised, they cannot continue watching mothers die on a daily basis,” he said.
ZiNA national president Mrs Regina Smith expressed concern over the retention allowance paid to directors from the HTF at the expense of nurses and service delivery.
“Very few nurses from clinics are benefiting, yet they are the ones handling deliveries,” she said. “They handle deliveries of up to 40 a month at one institution. Health service is teamwork. Deliveries are not done by one person, everyone has a role in the process.”
Health Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa said he would meet partners who contribute to the HTF this week to deliberate on how best the funding mechanism should be implemented.
Dr Parirenyatwa said: “I was not yet Health Minister, but what is important is I am there now. We are looking at it to see if it is equitable. Is it fair? Does it cause disgruntlement?”
He said he would ensure that no more than 15 percent of the fund went to allowances.
The HTF is in its third year and its implementation is expected to run until 2016.
The number of women who die during pregnancy or due to related complications has gone down from about 10 women a day to an average of five.
Zimbabwe is signatory to the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa whose slogan is “No woman should die while giving life”.