Critical shortage of lab technicians

HARARE - Zimbabwe is experiencing a critical shortage of laboratory technicians - a situation health personnel say is affecting the treatment of HIV and TB patients.

A public health specialist at the Disease Control and Prevention Centre, Sheetal Patel, said the lab operates with only 166 laboratory scientists servicing the whole nation. ZINQAP is a non-profit organisation that assists Zimbabwean medical laboratories and testing sites attain and maintain a high level of quality. The country has 124 laboratories under the ministry of health, which under nor mal circumstances should be manned by four laboratory technicians each.

An official from the National Aids Council, who declined to be named because he is not allowed to talk to the media, said shortage of laboratory technicians was affecting the placement of people on Antiretroviral Therapy. We have a situation in areas like Chirumhanzu where the entire district has one laboratory technician attending to more than 1500 blood samples, the situation is so pathetic. Fatigue and pressure in this case affects the final results of the samples .The same problem of human resources also affects the use of CD4 count machines by the few qualified technicians present, said the official.

Health and Child welfare Minister Henry Madzorera said the entre health sector was paralysed by the brain drain, and urged government to channel funds from the Chiadzwa diamond fields to attract health technicians who left the country for greener pastures in recent years.

The problem we have needs industry and commerce and the mining sector, especially the much talked about Chiadzwa diamonds, to mobilize resources and build a strong economy. At the moment we are relying on donors for retaining the health workers and we need to divert from that and develop ourselves, he said. The mass migration of doctors and nurses has been driven by a marked deterioration in working conditions and job prospects at home and unprecedented global opportunities for professional mobility. The poor salaries paid to local professionals compared to those in developed countries have hastened the exodus. During the 21st century, Zimbabwe has become a leading source country for health professionals, with 51 percent of locally-trained doctors and 25 percent of locally-trained nurses practicing abroad.

US Ambassador Charles Ray pledged $3.2 million towards strengthening the quality of Zimbabwean public health laboratories.

The US will also fund much needed equipment, supplies, and reagents for public health laboratories, as well as strengthen laboratory management and accreditation processes, and national HIV and TB-related health programmes run by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfares Laboratory Directorate.

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