October 3, 2003

Brain drain hits Harare's health system

A shortage of doctors and nurses, along with equipment breakdowns and lack of essential drugs are several of many problems plaguing Harare's health system. Doctors and nurses have in the past gone on strike for days adding to the woes of a struggling health care system. The health professionals say their pay has failed to keep pace with inflation, currently at more than 430 percent.

Zimbabwe's doctors and nurses are well trained but the situation at home has left them with no option but to seek jobs in other countries where the pay is better. Most city clinics are now run by inexperienced nurses with the support of students and Red Cross health aids and other assistants. Brain drain has hit Zimbabwe's fragile health care services and more than 80 percent of doctors, nurses and therapists have gone abroad to Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, US and to neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Botswana.

This has decimated a once-envied health care system, which two decades ago, saw the World Health Organisation naming Zimbabwe as the best health service provider because of its efficient health delivery system. The Government then, upgraded 550 health centres and built 321 new ones across the country.

But the adoption of economic reforms in 1991 resulted in the removal of subsidies to all social sectors including the city health system. A shortage of foreign currency to procure drugs and essential medical equipment, runaway inflation, the flight of trained health practitioners and sanctions have affected the country's health delivery system. The City Health Services department could not readily comment on the matter nor give an insight into the overall state of clinics. And until there is adequate funding for city health clinic, the strain of standing in queues will continue to haunt the poor who can't afford to seek treatment at private health centres. (The Herald, Harare)

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