HEALTHCARE CRISIS

Executives fired from Zimbabwe’s top hospitals while health workers’ strike continues

By Fazila Mahomed 15 July 2020

There is a shortage of healthcare personnel in Zimbabwe after at least 32 healthcare workers tested positive for Covid-19. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Aaron Ufumeli)

The crisis in Zimbabwe’s healthcare system has deepened as the government this week fired executives from the top five public hospitals in the country. Last week news broke that Health Minister Obediah Moyo had been sacked for corruption involving Covid-19 funds.

Zimbabwe’s Health Services Board (HSB) dismissed chief executives and several directors at state hospitals in the capital, Harare, and the city of Bulawayo in order to improve operational efficiency.

The HSB chairperson, Dr Paulinus Sikhosana, told Daily Maverick in a phone interview:

“We are carrying out a restructuring exercise aimed at restoring and preserving the integrity of our hospitals countrywide. There is a need to improve operational efficiency, accountability and the effective use of resources in conjunction with our parent ministry.”

Five chief executives, Ernest Manyawu of Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, Dr Tinashe Dhobbie of Sally Mugabe Central Hospital, Dr Enock Mayida of Chitungwiza Central Hospital, Nonhlanhla Ndlovu of United Bulawayo Hospitals and Leonard Mabhandi of Ingutsheni Psychiatric Hospital, have been relieved of their duties by the HSB.

Several directors at these major government hospitals have also been dismissed, causing a major shake-up in the already suffocating Zimbabwean health services sector at a time when the country is experiencing a sudden sharp increase in coronavirus infections, now more than 1,000.

Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA) president Enock Dongo said:

“Year in, year out, the Ministry of Health has been experiencing strikes by healthcare workers and this is a sign that the structures are not functioning well. Theoretically, the move to dismiss these executives is okay, but it’s practically weak.

“As an association, we recommend urgent restructuring of the entire ministry in a transparent manner for real change. We believe that these positions should be filled by people who are dedicated and committed to spend time at the hospitals, but, as we see now, clinical directors have been appointed in acting capacity and it’s a repetition of the same mistake.

“These are people, most of whom, if not all, are into private practice, just like their predecessors and they are hardly ever on the ground to lead. They come part-time, yet on paper are employed full-time, and our hospitals need committed administrators who are there on a day-to-day basis,” said Dongo.

Healthcare workers are panicking as the coronavirus infection rate increases. There are shortages of health personnel after at least 32 healthcare workers tested positive for Covid-19.

At least 267 staff members from the country’s public hospitals are in self-isolation after being exposed to the virus. At least 13 healthcare workers, 10 of them at Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo, are said to have been affected.

The Ministry of Health and Childcare’s acting secretary, Dr Gibson Mhlanga, told Daily Maverick:

“The situation is under control and we are reorganising our personnel to fit into the affected areas, mainly arising from health workers going into self-isolation after being exposed.”

According to the Ministry of Health and Childcare, Saturday 11 July was the deadliest day in the fight against Covid-19 in Zimbabwe when five people died and 40 new infections were recorded.

The country’s total coronavirus cases are currently standing at 1,034, while 673 are active with 19 people dead. Millions of Zimbabweans rely on government health institutions, but these hospitals face perennial shortages of basic drugs, equipment and sundries.

Zimbabwe has tested just over 356,000 people for the virus and screened 88,000 others. From the first detection of the coronavirus in March this year up to the end of June, only seven people died, but in the first 11 days of July alone, 12 people have died, signifying a worrying surge.

While the few Covid-19 testing centres are privatised and charging not less than $30, a local philanthropic organisation, Higherlife Foundation, has opened up free testing for anyone showing symptoms. The Chinese government has donated 30,000 Nucleic Acid Diagnostic kits to scale-up testing.

The Minister of Health, Dr Obadiah Moyo, was last week fired by President Emmerson Mnangagwa for “conduct inappropriate for a government minister” following a major corruption scandal involving $60-million for procurement of Covid-19 equipment and drugs. DM

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