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Zimbabwe Health Sector 'Collapsing' 36 Years After Independence

As Zimbabwe celebrates 36 years of independence, health experts, economists, government officials and ordinary Zimbabweans agree that the health system is in bad shape, hindering the enjoyment of the right to health as enshrined in the country’s constitution.

Dilapidated infrastructure, lack of machinery and drugs, brain drain, inhibitive costs and strikes by medical personnel are some of the challenges bedeviling the health sector.

Harare resident Nothando Nyoni says lack of access to healthcare has dented Zimbabwe’s black majority rule. She blames the Zanu PF government for failing to maintain even the health infrastructure left by the colonial regime.

“The health system is deteriorating. When we were growing up we would get everything at hospital but now doctors are always on strike, there is no medicine etc. Hospitals have become death traps.”

While Nyoni applauds the government for its ability to contain HIV/AIDS, she says it is sad that Zimbabwe is dependent on donor funds to fight the epidemic.

“We give credit to the government for the manner in which Zimbabwe has managed to deal with HIV/AIDs with the prevalence rate getting lower and lower but the danger is that the HIV treatment is funded by donors. What will happen if the donations dry up. Will government be able to take over? Government needs to look into this.”

A Chitungwiza resident, Delight Pambirei, says it is worrying that the country’s leadership is usually seeking medical attention outside Zimbabwe when the health delivery system is failing back home.

“There is a serious decline in the health system despite the fact that we inherited a robust and good health network. Ordinary people cannot afford health care. A lot of new mothers are detained time and again for failing to pay their bills. The elite prefer to get treatment outside the country like in South Africa or India as they have no confidence in the health sector.

“Even our own government officials lack confidence in the health delivery system. President Mugabe travels to Asia even for eye-care and now his daughter gave birth outside the country. His grandson was born outside the country. Government should start focusing on ensuring that health system is running well.”

A health expert, Muchaneta Mukamuri says while they are a few positives, it is a sad reality that the heath system has been compromised.

“We appreciate the efforts the government has done so far e.g tackling HIV/AIDS a lot still has to be done to improve access to healthcare especially by the poor. If you visit health institutions today nothing has been done even maintaining the buildings themselves. Certain diagnostic machines continue to breakdown and do not receive due attention.

“Zimbabwe seems to be fertile ground for health personnel training as the trained personnel leave for greener pastures because of poor remuneration. We lack experienced personnel.”

Economist Tapiwa Mashakada who is also a Member of Parliament for Hatfield, blames the ruling Zanu Pf for the failing health sector.

“At Independence, hospitals were state of the art manned by qualified staff, proper equipment and drugs were available. You would look forward to go to the hospital, however 36 years later the hospitals have become death traps with no medicine, equipment or staff. The hospitals have now become death traps.”

Director in the HIV/AIDS and TB Unit in the Ministry of Health and Childcare, Dr. 0wen Gurungi, agrees that all is not well in the health sector.

Mugurungi says lack of resources is devastating the sector, adding that as long as there are no resources the health system will continue to deteriorate.