HARARE - State hospitals have run out of vital medicines, with the institutions prescribing even basic drugs for purchase at private pharmacies.
This comes as morale has reportedly hit rock-bottom among health staff.
The crisis has particularly hit hard persons under-five and those over 65 years of age who, according to government policy, should be exempt from user fees.
Under the current dire circumstances, both age groups have been forced to purchase drugs at private pharmacies.
So grave is the situation that at some State hospitals, enterprising private pharmacies have set up shop inside the institutions to retail their merchandise.
The cash-strapped government is dismally failing to bankroll the crucial health sector amid a deepening liquidity crunch.
When the Daily News crew visited Harare Central and Parirenyatwa hospitals yesterday, the situation was desperate.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) organising secretary Chipfurutse Mugove said it was frustrating to work without critical drugs.
“We do not have drugs, syringes and even bandages,” Mugove told the Daily News.
“We are supposed to do our jobs ethically but we do not have drugs and sometimes we send people home. Everything must be available for us to execute our jobs, but now we are now forced to improvise. But how can we improvise when we are dealing with human beings? We cannot reverse deaths. Hopefully, we will find drugs in order to save lives.”
Mugove said they were not carrying out their responsibilities as they were supposed to.
“The fact that there are no drugs even affects us psychologically,” Mugove said. “It is hard to stand by and watch patients suffering with minor ailments.”
Paul Chimedza, the deputy minister of Health and Child Care, recently revealed that although government was aware that there are shortages of medicines in hospitals, it had no cash to address the crisis.
“The ministry is aware that there is shortage of medication and the government does not have the resources,” Chimedza said.
“We get most of our medication from NatPharm (National Pharmaceutical Company of Zimbabwe) and at the moment NatPharm does not have the capacity to buy medicines in bulk.”
The health sector has remained stuck in a time warp as donor-funded drugs have dried up and service delivery continues to fall due to understaffing and poor remuneration.
Deaths at childbirth have climbed up from 283 per 100 000 live births in 1984 to 540 per 100 000 live births currently.
Only a decade ago, Zimbabwe’s public health system was ranked among the best in sub-Saharan Africa. But like the rest of Zimbabwe’s economic and social fabric during a decade-long socio-economic crisis, the health delivery system has alarmingly deteriorated.
As hospitals struggle with funding, patients have also not been spared the crisis, with many failing to settle the bills.
Cash-strapped hospitals have since roped in debt collectors to follow up on outstanding arrears or detain patients who fail to pay. Some of the debt collectors even advertise at the major hospitals.
Morale among nurses, who are paid miserly wages, remains low and there is a sense of resignation among the health staff, with many seeking greener pastures abroad.
In spite of the challenges, bankrupt Zimbabweans have to make do with what is available and often dread to visit State hospitals because of the deepening shortage of drugs.