Harare's failure to offer attractive conditions of service for health professionals has resulted in lack of specialists in most state-owned hospitals.
They include speech therapists, who play a critical role in linking medical professionals with clients.
Speaking at a health workshop on the visually and hearing impaired held in Harare, Michele Angeletti, country representative of Christian Blind Mission, said the majority of poor people in Zimbabwe had no access to speech therapists.
“Right now there is not a single speech therapist working in public service in Zimbabwe,” said Angeletti.
This was confirmed by permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr. Gerald Gwinji, who told the same workshop that the government does not have money to pay salaries of these specialists.
“These are very sellable people as soon as you train them and you do not pay them properly they go. It is not an issue of us not training, but is an issue of us failing to retain them so let us address that end of things and we will have speech therapists on the ground.”
Ruth Labode, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Health and Child Care, said adoption of a disability policy will compel the government to ensure the presence of specialist medical personnel at public hospitals.
“The issue is a policy document and the policy document has been with the ministry for too long. It has to be brought to parliament.”
Gwinji concurred, adding that there was need for Zimbabwe to urgently adopt a disability policy. He said work on the policy had commenced.
“It is a multi-sectoral policy, it isn't primarily led by the Ministry of Health and Childcare but the Ministry of Labour and Social Services plays a critical role in this. Consultations were done and the primary ministry is now finalizing issues of validation in this policy and once they have done this, it is them that have to take it through the normal process of the policy to be adopted by government.”
Some people living with disabilities, who attended the workshop, bemoaned the failure by government to meaningfully invest in the heath sector to lure skilled medical personnel and specialists.
According to disability activist, Barbra Nyangairi, speech therapists play a critical role in people’s lives, including those with problems related to their senses.
“Speech therapists deal with the residual senses. For those that are able to acquire some speech it is important to provide speech therapy for them so they are able to use the residual senses more effective.”
However, Nyangairi said while a disability policy is important in Zimbabwe what is more critical for the country is implementation of such policies.
“Zimbabwe already has good policies. A disability policy would provide in a holistic sum of all things provided for within our legal framework in order to operationalise them. I think that the challenge in Zimbabwe is implementation. Most things die during the implementation stage so having the policy without a political will, will not be of much help.”
According to health experts, speech-language pathologists - sometimes called speech therapists - assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in patients.
Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, Parkinson’s disease, a cleft palate and autism.