Zimbabwe Doctors’ Advice: Don’t Get Sick

AP, August 31, 2008

The advice of doctors to Zimbabweans is, don’t get sick. If you do, don’t count on hospitals—they’re short of drugs and functioning equipment.

As the economy collapses, the laboratory at a main 1,000-bed hospital has virtually shut down. X-ray materials, injectable antibiotics and anticonvulsants have run out.

Emergency resuscitation equipment is out of action. Patients needing casts for broken bones need to bring their own plaster. In a country with one of the world’s worst AIDS epidemics, medical staff lack protective gloves.

Health authorities blame the drying up of foreign aid under Western sanctions imposed to end political and human rights abuses under President Robert Mugabe. {snip}

Meanwhile, the economic meltdown is evident in empty store shelves, long lines at gas stations—and hospitals where elevators don’t work and patients are carried to upper wards in makeshift hammocks of torn sheets and blankets.

{snip}

“Elective surgery has been abandoned in the central hospitals and even emergency surgery is often dependent on the ability of patients’ relatives to purchase suture materials from private suppliers,” it said.

“Pharmacies stand empty and ambulances immobilized for want of spare parts . . . this is an unmitigated tragedy, scarcely conceivable just a year ago.”

The doctors who compiled the six-page report for circulation among aid and development groups withheld their names because comments seen as critical of Mugabe are a punishable offense.

{snip}

No data is available on how many lives have been lost because of the medical crisis, but the report said hospital admissions declined sharply because of the cost of treatment and transportation over long distances to clinics and hospitals.

In recent years, 70 percent of births took place in health facilities; now it’s under 50 percent, the report said.

It said that a decade ago Zimbabwe had the best health system in sub-Saharan Africa. But with the economic crisis worsening, 10,000 Zimbabwean nurses are employed in Britain alone, and 80 percent of Zimbabwean medical graduates working abroad.

The main Harare medical school, once renowned for the quality of its graduates, has lost 60 percent of its complement of lecturers, and an unprecedented 30 percent of its students failed this year’s final examinations.

{snip}

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