HARARE – It is 9am and there is hustle and bustle at the country’s largest medical centre Parirenyatwa Hospital.
The emergency room is packed to the rafters with patients sitting on benches, wheelchairs and stretcher beds.
Some are bleeding profusely, some are groaning in excruciating pain, others are lying lifeless on stretcher beds and on floors, while relatives are performing amateurish first aid on unattended patients.
It is the same situation if not worse at Harare Hospital. You can smell death in the corridors of Parirenyatwa and Harare hospitals — visiting the two health institutions is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
The situation prevailing at Parirenyatwa Hospital, named after the first black Zimbabwean doctor, Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa, reveals that this basic fundamental human right will remain a pipe dream for the average Zimbabwean.
This is all in spite of the fact that provision of efficient and affordable health care was a strong rallying issue during the liberation struggle. Sadly, Zimbabweans are no better off, 33 years after independence.
Bogged down by serious brain drain which has seen a good number of qualified health personnel migrate in search of greener pastures in the region and abroad.
Parirenyatwa Hospital also faces a serious shortage of basic equipment.
The hospital, which has a medical, surgical, paediatric, maternity section in the main complex, has literally become a centre of death as it fails to function at full capacity.
Nothing about the manner in which patients presenting themselves at the hospital’s emergency section are attended to resembles a sense of urgency.
Tuesday morning, the Daily News spent half a day at Parirenyatwa Hospital where scores of people, some who had come as early as 6am, had still not been attended to by 11am.
A wailing policewoman who was wheeled into the hospital on a stretcher bed by her fellow cops only received attention after her colleagues intervened, even though her blood-soaked body revealed that she might have been involved in an accident.
One would have expected the hospital staff to rush to the aid of the woman, who was writhing in pain, but they took their time to attend to her.
At one time, an elderly nurse who seemed to be the matron, came out and complained about the slow service by the staff, but that did not improve matters.
The seemingly overwhelmed staff instead went on a tea break, giving one the sense that staffers at the hospital which also houses the University Of Zimbabwe College Of Health Sciences had gotten accustomed to leaving people screaming in the passages to have their breakfast sandwiches.
The emergency section also boasts of a resuscitation section where at least five patients were being attended to.
At least eight were lying lifeless on stretcher beds in the corridor near the resuscitation room, probably waiting for their chance to be revived.
At around 10:30am, a Doves Funeral parlour vehicle, pulled up and carried away a body.
The service at the hospital is lethargic.
It literally took about 30 minutes for a very sick woman to be lifted out of the taxi she had arrived in.
Her bewildered relatives had to first of all find a stretcher bed where they struggled to put her in.
And this is normal procedure for patients who do not arrive in ambulances. The Daily News understands there are just three functioning ambulances in Harare.
A few who arrived in private ambulances from organisations like Emras, were attended to quickly.
An old lady who only identified herself as Ambuya Banda, who was holding a two-week-old baby, said she had brought her daughter-in law to the emergency section at 6am but had not been treated by 11am.
“My daughter-in-law had a Caesarean operation two weeks ago but now the operation has burst. We came here very early hoping to be attended to but she still has not received treatment because by the time we got here, the queue was already long,” she said yesterday.
At around 12pm, the daughter-in-law came back with news that the hospital wanted $15 as consultation fees.
“I can’t believe this, we were charged $300 for the operation two weeks ago and now they are demanding another $15,” a distressed Ambuya Banda said.
She only cooled down after being informed that the hospital would treat her daughter-in-law on a pay later basis.
But she continued to lament the high cost of maternity services in the country, in spite of government’s directive to scrap user fees in public health institutions.
Another elderly woman who had escorted her husband also complained about the prohibitive cost of treatment and the snail pace at the hospital.
“This is definitely not what we went to war for, this is not what was promised at independence, my husband has to undergo dialysis twice every week and just one session costs $100,” she lamented.
The situation currently prevailing makes a mockery of the 2005 quality management programme spearheaded by Parirenyatwa Hospital’s chief executive Thomas Zigora.
Parirenyatwa Hospital is believed to have in excess of about 5 000 beds and 12 theatres, an annex psychiatric and the Sekuru Kaguvi eye treatment section.
Harare Hospital is also bogged down with similar problems of staff and equipment shortages.
Just last week, 15 women who had given birth were crammed on the floor at the hospital when the Daily News visited.
All of this is happening at a time when President Robert Mugabe has appointed David Parirenyatwa as the new minister of Health and Child Welfare.
During the swearing in ceremony of Cabinet ministers last week, Mugabe said appointment decisions were based on party loyalty and not necessarily competence.
“The decision was based on how much of Zanu PF are you, how long have you been with us and how educated you are,” he said.
The Zanu PF strongman all but pledged that his new administration would pay close attention to the people oriented programmes which also included eradication of diseases like HIV/Aids.
Parirenyatwa was minister of Health during the cholera epidemic which saw at least 4 000 perish, a tragedy that brought his competence as Health minister into sharp focus. He has never apologised for the 4000 deaths which happened under his leadership of the ministry.
Parirenyatwa also did not score notable milestones in the fight against HIV/Aids which Mugabe said had robbed the country of many men and women.
Parirenyatwa’s appointment comes at a time when public institutions like the hospital named after his father and other public health institutions are facing serious staff and equipment shortages.
Efforts to secure a comment from Parirenyatwa, his deputy Paul Chimedza, permanent secretary Brigadier Gwinji were not fruitful as their mobile phones remained unavailable all day long yesterday.
It now remains to be seen if Parirenyatwa will be able to turn around the fortunes of the hospital.