Zimbabwe: Doctors urge government to take responsibility for collapsed health system

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), an IFHHRO member, published a press release on 19 November 2008 stating that Zimbabwe's public health system is in a state of collapse and in need of urgent action to rescue it. According to the press release, the system "has been paralysed by drug shortages, insufficient medical supplies, dilapidated infrastructure, equipment breakdowns and brain drain." The main referral hospitals in the country have been virtually closed and most district hospitals and municipal clinics are barely functioning or closed. As the majority of the population cannot afford private health care, it means that people are suffering and dying as a result of lack of medical attention. A severe cholera outbreak in the country has already caused hundreds of preventable deaths so far. The Medical School of the University of Zimbabwe was closed indefinitely on 17 November 2008 - according to ZADHR it became impossible to continue to teach medical students in non-functioning health institutions.

On 18 November 2008 health workers from two Harare hospitals protested against the state of the public health system. They planned to march to the offices of the Minister of Health and Child Welfare to present a petition, but were stopped by heavily armed riot police. When they gathered to resume their protest at the grounds of Parirenyatwa Hospital, riot police entered the hospital grounds and forcibly dispersed them, assaulting several health workers in the process.

ZADHR calls for the following urgent action to be taken:

1. The government should declare the cholera outbreak a national disaster and solicit international support to bring it under control and restore supply of safe water and sanitation systems to Zimbabwe's population.

2. Measures should be taken to provide adequate medical supplies, drugs and equipment to Zimbabwe's hospitals and clinics. While long term sustainable measures are ultimately required, there is a need for urgent interim assistance to restore functionality to Zimbabwe's health system.

3. The Government must guarantee quality for health professionals and to ensure that conditions in which these skills can be retained are put in place (including adequate remuneration and safe working conditions).