Forward Nyanyiwa Features Writer
Legend has to it that, the only time doctors had a chance to meet the country’s Head of State and Government during the First Republic was some time in 2008.
Then, a delegation of the medical practitioners was dispatched from Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals to State House for a purported meeting with former president Robert Mugabe.
Said a source who was part of the entourage: “Upon entering the State House premises, we were shoved into seclusion where we waited for approximately two hours before the arrival of our host. We had with us, a petition which we had intended to hand over to the President and among some of the grievances was deteriorating hospital standards, inadequate resources and general welfare of medical personnel.
“After what seemed like an eternity, the then president Mugabe entered the room and all hell broke loose. We never exchanged pleasantries,” said the source who preferred anonymity.
“Where are the doctors? What have you come for?” he bemused doctors’ present such that not an individual dared to respond. “If you don’t know why you are here then go back to work,” he is said to have retorted.
With tails between their legs, the poor doctors made to the exit without even submitting their petition and that was that.
Good morning Second Republic!
On Wednesday last week, His Excellency President Emmerson Mnangagwa met with doctors’ representatives for a fruitful indaba that was arranged by Health Ambassador Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa at the same venue, State House.
On the contrary, this time around, unlike then, the doctors did not wait for two hours to meet the President, in fact they had a discussion spanning more than that. Although this was a follow-up meeting to an earlier one this year, the indaba came as a relief to many as it heralded a new working relationship between the Head of State and doctors.
Earlier this year the health delivery system was almost brought to its knees following a 41-day job action in which the medical practitioners downed their tools citing a plethora of grievances including but not limited to poor working conditions and their welfare.
The problems have been chronic and this has negatively impacted on the health sector for too long. However, background is key.
For years,, Zimbabwe’s health sector was the pride of the Southern Africa and it was such a hub of specialist care that it attracted patients across the region. Coupled with well-trained medical professionals, the health delivery system was the envy of many countries until the year 2000 when Zimbabwe decided to redress imbalances in land ownership.
Stung by the redistribution of land, the United States of America imposed illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe, a move which saw several of America’s allies withdrawing the support they were rendering to Zimbabwe’s healthcare. Several drug deals were shelved, long-term plans to improve the health infrastructure were disrupted as Zimbabwe became isolated from the community of nations.
Monetary cushions from international financial institutions was dried as the country bravely became dependent on its budget. Key departments became crippled and as the nation limbed on, several health professionals were lost to brain drain.
This spelt disaster for the once vibrant and health sector.
The newly qualified medical professionals then came aboard and inherited a limping sector and the situation became tricky given the legendary tales they heard about the once vibrant sector. The new breed of professionals, most of them who were at university when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was born somehow became involved in activities that would derail the resuscitation of the health care sector.
The problems reached a head during the hyperinflation years which saw the country’s major hospitals like Harare Central Hospital almost closing shop as the sector struggled to stay afloat.
The ushering in of the Second Republic has seen a divorce from the past as President Mnangagwa has embarked on a charm offensive to lure back our friends in the health sector. ED has been on a worldwide tour to preach a new gospel for the nation but like an old English adage, Rome was not built in one day!
The problems stalking our health sector are real and they need real interventions. It is also crucial to note that doctors form the backbone of this sector and engaging them must have been a priority since long back. They are not alone in this bracket, there are nurses, radiologists, laboratory technicians, pharmacists, technicians from the rehabilitation departments, counsellors and many other health professionals.
A day spent at a hospital without a doctor can spell doom for many lives and this brings into perspective President Mnangagwa’s meeting with the medical practitioners.
Last Wednesday’s meeting mainly centred on the working environment for doctors and their tools of trade. From the meeting, the President gave his assurance that public hospitals will be fully stocked with drugs and medical equipment while Government continues to look into their welfare.
The development came as a plus to the health sector given that for the first time, doctors can now air their concerns straight to the man-in-charge and get answers without any bottlenecks. A seed has now been sown for open engagement with the country’s leadership, delivering a mortal blow to those who have been abusing doctors for regime change agendas.
It is also important to note that while our doctors have been unhappy about their welfare for long, this time around they are fighting for the patient. They want the best for their patients. Who can forget the video clip of a tearful Dr Mashumba which went viral earlier in the year?
Doctors are calling out for bandages, latex gloves, X-ray machines, syringes and needles, oxygen tanks and all other equipment that will make their job easier. Now that His Excellency has given his word to look into the problems, this should not stop there. These meetings should now be periodical and timelines drawn and the health sector will surely say goodbye to some of these chronic problems.
The door should also be opened to all other health professionals including nurses so that candid discussions take place to thwart any further misinformation but engage in issues affecting their work. Strikes by health professionals have been sporadic and whilst there are other channels to deal with the issues, it is prudent to note that a meeting with the President can be key to avert future job actions.
First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, the Health Ambassador, must be commended for such an initiative and the same must now be afforded to other professionals in the health sector she has been helping to resuscitate. It is important to note that her proximity to the country’s leadership can be tapped into by the medical professionals to uplift the sector.
Health Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo must also be commended for the role he has played so far including roping in the First Lady to be the face of health concerns. Head of delegation in last week’s meeting Dr Faith Muchemwa told journalists after the meeting that they were leaving State House satisfied.
“It has been a really good meeting and we were listened to. We have been assured that most of the things that we have been requiring are actually already on their way through the Honourable Minister (Dr Obadiah Moyo),” she was quoted as telling journalists.