HARARE, ZIMABABWE – Doctors and nurses in Zimbabwe are challenging a Ministry of Health rule they say impedes their ability to leave the country. The ministry said last month that health care workers must get official signatures to receive a “Certificate of Good Standing” – a needed reference to get work abroad. A doctors group says it’s an attempt to stop a mass exodus after poor treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After more than 10 years of working in government hospitals, a 36-year-old doctor – who did not want to be identified told VOA countless protests have not resulted in a decent salary or better working conditions.
He applied to work in England. But for nearly three months now, he says he can’t go, because he is still waiting for a “Certificate of Good Standing” from the government that foreign employers require.
” I want to leave this country to work where I can treat people properly with all equipment and medicines,” the doctor told VOA. He says he also wants a salary so he can look after his children and his parents, who paid for his education.
The Senior Hospital Doctors Association of Zimbabwe says its members are frustrated by delays they attribute to the government trying to curtail a brain drain among health workers.
Its leader, Dr. Aaron Musara, says the government is misusing the certificate of good standing.
“Normally the certificate of good standing talks about the integrity of a colleague, how the colleague does not have pending cases or issues of discipline involving issues with patients or with colleagues,” Dr. Musara told VOA. “It will now cease to be about that, the moment we allow it to be used by the government in this manner. It can be abused as a way of handling labour issues rather than being a professional issue.”
He says in some cases doctors just want to go abroad to further their education, then return to Zimbabwe.
Health personnel in Zimbabwe have long protested about poor working conditions – including inadequate personal protective equipment (PPEs) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the cash-strapped nation has been unable to improve salaries or provide needed supplies.
Zimbabwe’s vice president, Constantino Chiwenga, who is the country’s new health minister, told doctors this week that he would address all their problems.
“I promise that I will do my best in creating the much-needed conducive environment for your work. Your work will not go unnoticed,” he said. “Do your best and I will do my part. And together we can avoid the ongoing unnecessary loss of life.”
Chiwenga did not talk about preventing health care workers from leaving Zimbabwe. Health officials said they would not comment on the issue after the vice president’s promise to resolve the doctors’ problems.