Saturday, December 13, 2008

Zimbabwe: "I am not a nurse anymore, I am a mortuary attendant"

Peter Dzumbunu, (not his real name), 29, is a male nurse working at a government referral hospital in Chitungwiza, a dormitory town about 35km south of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. The collapse of health services has left him looking for other options, but not in Zimbabwe.

"I have been working as a nurse for the past seven years, and with each passing year I become more distraught by the state of our health delivery system. This year [2008] marks the height of the degeneration of public hospitals and clinics.

"For the first time in the history of this country, government hospitals virtually closed down as doctors and nurses went on strike for the umpteenth time, pressing for better working conditions.

"Yes, we have been striking frequently, but at no time did we hear of hospitals sending patients — some of them in critical condition — home to die on their own.

"What makes the closure of the hospitals even more pathetic is the fact that it coincided with a widespread outbreak of cholera. As a nurse, I was trained to be compassionate to patients.

"Honestly speaking, I now feel like a mortuary attendant because people die around me every day, even though in some of the cases, the deaths could have been avoided. The hospital has become a place where people come to prepare for death, rather than being saved.

"Hospitals are admitting patients, even with the full knowledge that there are no drugs, equipment or food with which to help the sick. What pains in this case is that the patients are left with huge medical bills to settle, despite the fact that they are hardly receiving any help.

"Worse still, patients' relatives find it difficult to settle the bills because they cannot access enough money from their banks, due to unrealistic withdrawal limits.

"Imagine - it is now student nurses and doctors who are being deployed to the hospitals to deal with a few cases, mostly involving cholera, following the withdrawal of services by those that are qualified.

"The students are supposed to be learning their professions, but they are now being used like people who know the trade. What are they learning when there is no—one to lead them? What kind of help are they giving to the patients that have remained in hospital?

"I feel pity for the sick, because at times there are no detergents to wash their blankets with; this exposes them to lice and communicable diseases.

"Right now, there is hardly any protective clothing for nurses and doctors, meaning that those that attend to the sick, particularly the cholera patients, are at a high risk of being infected themselves.

Looking for a wayout

"I have been battling to get a visa to go to the UK, where most of my former workmates have now settled. I will keep on trying but if I fail completely, I am thinking of going to either Botswana or South Africa to take up any kind of job that will pay me better than this profession.

"I don't mind even becoming a farm worker, as long as I earn foreign currency. As it stands now, I can hardly make ends meet. My salary is worth only a week's transport expenses. I have a family to look after, and my wife has been forced to sell vegetables to supplement my income."

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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This blog will be on holiday from Dec 15 2008 -Jan 12 2009!