Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Reporter
Patients have called on Government and striking doctors to find each other to ensure efficient health delivery returns to hospitals and clinics, where they are no longer guaranteed of treatment. This comes as Government has said it is continually reaching out to the doctors to find a lasting solution to their grievances.
The on-going strike by doctors has had a negative impact on the health delivery system, with hospitals and clinics struggling to provide efficient services to their patients.
The Herald visited the major hospitals in Harare yesterday where patients were stranded.
A patient at Harare Central Hospital who needed the services of a specialist doctor said this was her third visit to the hospital hoping to be attended to, but to no avail.
“Each time I come here, I am told the specialist is not here,” she said.
At Chitungwiza Central Hospital, those on duty said only emergencies were being attended to.
“We were referred from Marondera General Hospital and we needed to see a doctor, but we were told our case was not an emergency as the few available doctors were only attending to emergency cases,” said Mrs Anna Mary Mambwerazuva, who had brought her minor child for treatment.
“Our fear now is that the condition of the child could worsen before treatment.”
At Parirenyatwa Hospital, another patient said: “We were here as early as 11am and this is almost 1:00pm and we have not yet received any assistance. We are still waiting to be attended to.”
The strike by doctors, which is now more than two months old, has had a telling effect on the operations at the country’s biggest referral hospitals, and other centres across the country.
The wailing sounds of ambulances racing in with patients have long gone silent, while the patter of feet and the sight of medical professionals, particularly doctors, in their white coats and stethoscopes around their necks racing from one emergency to the other is now a rare sight.
Only a few desperate patients and emergency cases are still trickling in for assistance, but even then, they have to wait hours on end to be attended to by the few doctors available.
In the meantime, most of the patients who would ordinarily have been occupying benches in the outpatient department are now being referred to local authority clinics.
This has exerted pressure on local authority clinics, where most cases are receiving treatment.
Statistics from Harare City Council, where the majority of cases are being assisted, indicate that in September alone, a total of 2 183 women were assisted to deliver, up from 1 204 assisted the same period last year.
The number of maternity transfers from clinics to central hospitals has dropped from 843 in September last year to 592 this year.
“The number of deliveries at council clinics has increased due to the industrial action in central hospitals, which saw most mothers move to city maternal facilities,” said City of Harare’s head of epidemiology and disease control Dr Kudzai Masunda.
“The reduction of transfers in the months of October was due to the unavailability of central hospitals, even complicated deliveries were being done at clinic level.”
Dr Masunda said furthermore, the number of babies who die upon delivery has also doubled from six in September last year to 12 this year.
“These are cases that we could have otherwise referred to a central facility, but could not do so because of the strike,” said Dr Masunda.
Council nurses also went on strike and despite negotiations, only 35 out of the expected 104 nurses turned up for duty on Tuesday at the five polyclinics operating.
Harare City Council yesterday said it was actively engaging the nurses representatives to ‘find each other.’
“At the moment, we are operating with skeletal staff ranging between 40 to 44 per day, which is almost 30 percent of required staff per day,” said the municipality’s spokesperson, Mr Michael Chideme.
This has forced most of the people seeking attention to turn to private clinics and hospitals where consultation fees are high, especially at a time when medical aid societies are failing to provide full cover.
But the situation is not totally hopeless, as Government is continuing to reach out to the striking doctors.
Speaking at a post-Cabinet briefing in Harare on Tuesday, Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said Government was working tirelessly to address the doctors’ concerns and had allocated money for the procurement of medicines to restock hospitals.
Dr Moyo said they were reviewing conditions of service with special focus on the provision of accommodation and transport for junior doctors.
“Government is still committed to dialogue with the striking doctors and a meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, 14th November, 2019,” said Dr Moyo.
“Government is working flat out to ensure availability of resources in health institutions and to improve the conditions of service for all health personnel.
“I want to assure them that we have ordered more medicines and Government has allocated money towards restocking of medicines at public hospitals to ensure proper health care service is provided to the people.”