REPUBLIC OF ZIMBABWE: Zimbabwe's health system in chaos

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21 Nov 2008
As political parties in Zimbabwe argue between themselves about the form the new government should take, Zimbabwe's health system is on the verge of total collapse.
An outbreak of cholera is affecting nine out of Zimbabwe's ten provinces and major hospitals are failing to provide medical care to those in need.

The main referral hospitals in the country, including Harare Central, Parirenyatwa and United Bulawayo hospitals, are barely functioning and some wards have even been closed.

Two government maternity hospitals in greater Harare have been closed. Many district hospitals and municipal clinics are either closed or operating at minimum capacity. The University of Zimbabwe Medical School closed indefinitely on 17 November.

The system is paralysed by shortages of drugs and medical supplies, a dilapidated infrastructure, equipment failures and a brain drain. As a result, ordinary Zimbabweans are unable to access basic health care.

Around 3,000 women per month give birth in public hospitals in Harare. Between 250 and 300 of them require lifesaving caesarean sections.

Maternity services at Harare and Parirenyatwa Hospitals have been withdrawn, resulting in many poor women being denied emergency caesarean sections. Most private hospitals now charge for their services in US dollars, making them inaccessible to the majority of the population.

The cholera outbreak in the country remains the cause of hundreds of preventable deaths.

The state-owned Herald newspaper has reported that in Beitbridge, a district in Matabeleland South province, 45 people have died as a result of the cholera outbreak in the last seven days.
Failure to contain and manage the outbreak is the result of inadequate supply of safe drinking water and broken down sanitation systems that often leave residents surrounded by flowing raw sewage.

Heavily armed riot police are reported to have prevented a group of health workers from presenting a petition to the Minister of Health and Child Welfare on 18 November. The health workers were calling for the government to take urgent action to restore accessible and affordable healthcare.

Instead, they were forced to hold their protest within the grounds of Parirenyatwa Hospital. After four hours, police entered the hospital grounds and forcibly dispersed them, assaulting several health workers in the process.

"Amnesty International is concerned that Zimbabwean politicians continue to play political games while the country is collapsing. It is tragic that dozens of Zimbabweans are dying daily from preventable illnesses while politicians concentrate more on their plight than ending the suffering of ordinary people," said Erwin van der Borght, Director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme.

21 November 2008

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