Doctors cannot afford health care

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Doctors cannot afford health care

Joylean M Baro writes about doctors in Zimbabwe. They are working on Covid-19 care but they cannot afford to pay for treatment for themselves.


Health workers at the Mpilo Central Hospital Covid19 Testing laboratory. Bulawayo, 25 April 2020. Credit: KB Mpofu / ILO

Doctor Nunguhuru works in a Zimbabwe hospital. He had a serious kidney problem in August 2020. But he could not go to the public hospital where he works. There were not enough doctors and nurses there.

Doctor Nunguhuru says, ‘The private clinics needed you to have a Covid-19 certificate already. I didn’t know want to do. So doctors from my hospital treated me in Accident and Emergency until I could pass some urine.’ He uses another name on Twitter because he is afraid that state security agents will abduct him.

In January 2020 doctors and nurses ended a strike over pay and working conditions. In late March they were on strike again to protest that there was not enough personal protective equipment (PPE). The doctors and nurses on strike said they received death threats and pressure from possible state security agents.

Zimbabwe doesn’t have enough doctors. In recent years people say that thousands of doctors have walked away from their jobs and were on strike, or they emigrated. During Covid-19 photos of nurses’ gowns, used instead of good PPE, went viral on the internet. People say hungry doctors have to eat patients’ food.

Many hospitals don’t have enough medicines and equipment, including for laundry. In 2019 there were reports that one hospital was now washing bed linen in a river. The government said that was not true.

The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association says salaries for public-hospital doctors are about $115 per month. Zimbabwe’s Living Wage average is $305. ‘If I get into a coma or have a stroke on a salary of $115, I will die. It costs $2,000 to go to a private clinic and a specialist doctor is $100 per day,’ says Doctor Nunguhuru.

A junior doctor started #FixOurHealthcareSystem. It is a social-media campaign and it is popular on Twitter across Zimbabwe. Doctors with very little money talk about how they cannot afford the medicines and surgeries they prescribe. They hope to safely catch the attention of Zimbabwe’s feared leaders.

‘I had to go and buy paracetamol from a private pharmacy because the public hospital didn’t have any,’ posted one doctor. ‘My wife is pregnant, the closest clinic is closed, the next is 10km away and it is accepting only eight women per day. The cheapest private clinic charges $100 to register. I am an unemployed doctor for five months. It’s very difficult for me,’ ZimAfric tweeted.

Another health worker, Drjaytee87, also posted their own story, ‘On the night my daughter was born early, hospital fees were $400 per visit and $80 for a paediatrician to come twice a day. The hospital stay for my baby was $50 per day and $100!’

Thabisa Sibanda is a senior health researcher in Melbourne, Australia, 10,700 kilometres away. Thabisa was born in Zimbabwe. She says that this hashtag movement is a safer way for doctors in Zimbabwe to tell their painful stories and talk about the problems in getting healthcare in the country.

‘You can’t read these stories and not cry.’


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)