BULAWAYO - One of the two biggest public hospitals in Zimbabwe's second largest city of Bulawayo has closed its theatre unit after running out of critical drugs necessary for all life-saving operations.
Sources told ZimOnline on Thursday that the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) - which is one of the two main public referral hospitals in the south of the country - suspended surgical operations last week after running out of anesthetics and other essential tools, in yet another sign of collapse of the public health sector.
"We suspended all surgical operations last week after the last stocks of anesthetics and surgical thread ran out. The critical theatre medical unit has since been closed," a doctor at the institution speaking on condition of anonymity said.
ZimOnline reporters who visited the UBH on Thursday found the theatre unit at the hospital closed with staff saying they were referring patients to expensive private hospitals such as the Catholic-run Mater Dei hospital for surgery.
Another state-run hospital in the city Mpilo General was not taking extra patients from UBH apparently because it was also running low on anesthetics.
"Mpilo also faces shortages of anesthetic drugs. The situation is very critical as it means hospitals in Bulawayo, which are supposed to cater for four provinces, are not equipped to deal with disasters such as road accidents," another doctor added.
Deputy Health Minister Edwin Muguti blamed sanctions for the suspension of surgical operations at Bulawayo's state hospitals.
"These are the effects of the illegal western sanctions against Zimbabwe," said Muguti in a telephone interview on Thursday. "We have a serious challenge as far as the shortages of consumables and critical drugs for surgery are concerned. UBH has suspended surgical operations as a result."
Last week the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) blamed an outbreak of cholera in Zimbabwe on broken down public infrastructure, the result of years of an unprecedented economic decline and political turmoil in the country.
Zimbabwe's recession marked by the world's highest inflation of 231 million percent, has hastened the deterioration of key infrastructure needed for economic activity and public health such as adequate power and water supplies.
The public health sector - once one of the best in Africa - has been hardest hit by the economic crisis with the government short of cash to import essential medicines and equipment, while the country has suffered the worst brain drain of doctors, nurses and other professionals seeking better opportunities abroad.