Coronavirus (930) I’m a Zimbabwean doctor. The crisis is even worse than you think.

21 August, 2020

Below are extracts from a news item, with thanks to Global Health Now. It is written anonymously. Read in full here:


Doctors and nurses are on strike. We’re having to turn patients away. Morale is the lowest it’s ever been.

You may have heard about the seven babies stillborn in Harare Hospital in one day at the end of July. From the maternity register that night, you can see that the infants were on average a healthy weight. They should have survived. The reason they died is because Zimbabwe’s health system is simply not functioning as we speak.

Many doctors, like me, are afraid to say this because our government only knows how to use force. That’s why I am writing this anonymously. But the reality here is that the tragic case of those babies is just one of many. There are many more people dying.

This situation was already desperate last year. Medics in Zimbabwe were struggling to get by on such low wages and to work in such poor conditions. This led us to go on strike in September 2019. We only returned to work in January 2020 when the telecoms tycoon Strive Masiyiwa offered to supplement our government wages with a monthly subsistence allowance through his charitable foundation.

But then, in March, COVID-19 reached Zimbabwe. At a time when the dilapidated healthcare sector urgently needed support and attention, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration did nothing.

In April, the High Court ordered the government to ensure all healthcare workers were supplied with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). But now in August, there is still hardly any PPE. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an N-95 mask (one with an air filter), but we’re mostly working with one surgical mask that has to last the entire day and plastic aprons. We hear more and more of nurses being infected and, when they do, there is no insurance for them, no support, and no one to look after them. This, in the middle of a pandemic...

Throughout the pandemic and following the story about the death of the babies, some of us have been criticised for going on strike. I understand, but we are not striking because we don’t want to work. We are striking because we want to be able to do our jobs. But to do that, we need real equipment and not to be improvising the whole time. We need to be physically, emotionally and mentally fit. And we can’t be worried about catching COVID-19 every time we go to work and thus endangering ourselves and our families...

We are tired of telling patients that you are going to die, tired of patients dying when it could have been prevented. As people who were trained to care, the situation is incredibly distressing. Our morale is incredibly low – the lowest it has ever been – and so many people now just want to leave the country...


Comment (NPW): The first responsibility of any government is to protect the health of their population, and this means empowering health workers to do be able to do their jobs. As this author says, "We are striking because we want to be able to do our jobs." He also suggests 'President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration did nothing', adding yet another head of state to those who ignore evidence-informed health policy.

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: