People die as hospitals run out of drugs, oxygen

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by Pamenus Tuso

Equipment breakdowns and lack of essential drugs at Mpilo and United Bulawayo Hospitals is threatening the health of the people in the region, reports PAMENUS TUSO.

Gone are the days when patients from all walks of life can readily receive treatment at the two biggest health centres in Matabeleland.

Mpilo has suspended all surgical procedures owing to a critical shortage of drugs and operating consumables such as oxygen kits – leaving scores of patients stranded. Meanwhile UBH is manned by only one orthopaedic surgeon. Currently more than 50 orthopaedic patients are said to be on the waiting list.

According to patients and officials at Mpilo, the health institution has also run out of basics such as bandages and cotton wool swabs.

“It is now the order of the day for patients who qualify for medical schemes and subsidised health services to buy prescribed drugs from private pharmacies using their own money. Patients who want to undergo various operation procedures are the most affected as they are required to bring their own gloves, syringes and other consumables,” said a nurse at the hospital who refused to be named for fear of victimisation.

The shortages of drugs and equipment at the two government hospitals have hit rural and unemployed patients hardest.

“My son has not been operated since December 25 when he was admitted at the hospital after he fell from a tree and sustained a fractured leg. Up to now we do not know when the operation will be carried out. I have lost a lot of money and time here nursing him while other villagers are busy in their fields at home,” said a mother who refused to be named for fear of reprisal from the hospital authorities.

As has become the norm, Minister of Health and Child Care David Parirenyatwa was not picking up his phone when The Zimbabwean tried to reach him for comment several times last week. UBH acting chief executive officer, Norman Sobhuza, was however optimistic that things will improve for the better this year.

“We have already done some strategic work and we want to make use of the limited resources that have been availed to us so that we improve the situation of our hospital,” he said.

Health gets only 6,9% of budget

According to the 2001 Abuja Declaration African Union many countries, including Zimbabwe, pledged to increase government funding for health to at least 15% of the budget. Zimbabwe’s 2015 budget gives health only a miserly 6,9%.

Although matters of health affect every Zimbabwean, the largest chunk of the national budget has been over the years allocated to the Ministry of Defence which some people strongly feel is not necessary as there is no war in the country, while education and health are burning issues.

“The government should invest more into the health of the nation by allocating more resources to the Ministry of Health. The health of the nation comes first above all things’’ said Felix Gwidiri.

Mbuso Fuzwayo, the Secretary General of Ibhetshu Likazulu, a Bulawayo-based pressure group,

“Why is it that hospitals in Harare are not experiencing these problems? Most of the machines at our hospitals are now obsolete yet a lot of patients from this side continue to travel to Harare to seek medical services in the capital city and other well-equipped church hospitals in Mashonaland. I think this issue should be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

Various people with kidney ailments said their lives were in real danger because they cannot afford the huge travelling and dialysis costs charged by private and government hospitals in Harare.

“It pains me a lot that Mpilo machines are not being repaired while I and other patients travel all the way to Harare to get treatment. I travel to Avondale dialysis centre twice a week and fork out $265 per every session. On top of that, I am also expected to buy my own dialysis kit. In Zimbabwe being a renal patient is as good as being under a death sentence. Yet this disease can be managed,” said Dave Ncube, adding that a lot of patients in the region have lost their lives because they could not afford the costs associated with the disease.

Esigodini resident Taurai Mabika appealed to humanitarian organizations to assist the two hospitals with medical supplies and equipment. “The situation obtaining at the two major health centres has reached crisis levels. It is clear that the government has failed to run these hospitals. We urge World Vision and other organisations that have been assisting the country with food aid to seriously consider channelling more resources to our health institutions,” he said.