SA bears the brunt of Zim’s crumbling health system

I was rushed to one of Zimbabwe’s biggest government hospitals, Parirenyatwa, where the ambulance personnel pushed my stretcher to the dozens of other stretchers on the hospital floor. The shock of the accident was with me and I was weeping quite loudly. A nurse passing by asked, what the problem was. The ambulance personnel replied that I had just had an accident and needed urgent attention. The nurse responded by saying that, if I was not at the gasping stage, I was still OK.

Zimbabwe’s biggest government hospital, Parirenyatwa.
Zimbabwe’s biggest government hospital, Parirenyatwa.

The calm and casualness in her voice made me panic so badly that I begged the ambulance people to take me with them and leave me at a private hospital. As I would later learn, on that particular day, the Parirenyatwa hospital staff were on strike and the few who had come to work were so overworked they couldn’t cope.

As I was leaving on a stretcher, I saw an elderly man on a stretcher bed, mouth open, eyes wide open and unblinking. He was dead. That was the last image I saw before I closed my eyes, wishing that when I opened them again, I would be in better and more humane surroundings.

Because of the seriousness of my injuries, I was in and out of hospital for a year and had to have three operations. I am fortunate because I’ve lived to tell the story.

Six years later, I was told of a similar tale by a friend. Her mother was involved in an accident close to the Beitbridge border post. When my friend arrived at the hospital where her mother was being treated, she was on a stretcher covered in dry blood and with flies all over her.

The sight of her mother in that condition has traumatised her since. Her mother had been lying on that stretcher for three days, wasting away and with minimal medical attention. The friend immediately requested a transfer to South Africa, where she is now receiving treatment at a South African government hospital.

A little research reveals the huge numbers of Zimbabweans travelling to South Africa for scheduled medical attention and sometimes emergency care. Their reasons? In Zimbabwe, apart from the exorbitant medical fees, there is also a general lack of medical attention for those seeking treatment in public hospitals.

“When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I immediately knew that I would have to seek medical assistance in SA because just to get the diagnosis in Zimbabwe was an uphill task. Although, it has not been an easy journey here in SA, we have made so much progress towards her treatment. If you have money, I am sure it should be fairly easy to access the best medical care in Zimbabwe but, for the rest of us, it’s almost like a death sentence. If you are unable to go to other countries or get the money required, then healthcare becomes a nightmare,” says one man I spoke to.

For some Zimbabweans, seeking medical attention in South Africa is not in itself an end to their woes. Some encounter numerous problems particularly in public hospitals, where SA citizens believe that the already scarce medical resources are being made to stretch too far by extending them to non-nationals.

Zimbabwe is a rich country; rich in human resources, mineral resources and a lot more. Ironically the wealth of the country is expressed through the salaries of top executives, who earn obscene amounts of money.

Case in point, is the PSMAS CEO’s widely reported salary of US$230,000. PSMAS is Zimbabwe’s biggest medical aid society. The obscenities of this scenario are made clearer when one reflects on the country’s health sector where thousands die because of lack of access to health facilities.

A man’s moment of reflection comes when the threat of death is apparent. His whole life flashes in front of him when he realises he has missed death by a whisker. The reality for most is that we are always being pushed into those uncomfortable moments of reflection.

To restore faith and confidence in the healthcare through an affordable and efficient healthcare system should always be a priority for a country as rich as ours.

Post published in: Health

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