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Zimbabwe health system collapses, cholera crosses border to SA

Written by Health-e News

Zimbabwe’€™s doctors have sketched a picture of a health system that has collapsed with hundreds of people dying from a cholera epidemic which has now crossed the border into South Africa.

Limpopo Health Department spokesperson Phuti Seloba confirmed that 81 people were being treated at Mussina Hospital with three deaths recorded so far.

He said 80 of the patients were from Zimbabwe while the ill South African had spent time in the neighbouring country.

‘€œAll patients are being referred to Mussina from clinics and hospitals along the border and they are then treated at a rehydration centre that has been set up,’€ said Seloba.

Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said in a statement the cholera outbreak in the country remained the cause of hundreds of preventable deaths with the disease having spread within Harare’s suburbs, Mashonaland Central, East and West and Matabeleland South.

‘€œThirty-six deaths were confirmed over just two days in Beitbridge this past weekend,’€ the statement said.

They said failure to contain and manage the outbreak was the result of inadequate supply of safe drinking water and broken down sanitation systems that often left residents surrounded by flowing raw sewage.

The Zimbabwe doctors said their country’€™s public health system was in a state of collapse and in need of urgent action to rescue it.

‘€œIt has been paralysed by drug shortages, insufficient medical supplies, dilapidated infrastructure, equipment breakdowns and brain drain. The main referral hospitals in the country ‘€“ Harare Central Hospital and Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare and Mpilo Hospital and United Bulawayo Hospitals in Bulawayo have been virtually closed,’€ they said.

Most district hospitals and municipal clinics were barely functioning or closed. Sick people in need of medical attention were being turned away from Zimbabwe’s hospitals and clinics.

They said the withdrawal of maternity services at Harare and Parirenyatwa Hospitals meant that healthy women requiring elective and emergency caesarean sections, and unable to afford private health care, would needlessly die in child birth.

‘€œIn the absence of specialist care tens of women could be victims of maternal mortality each weak due to the absence of a specialist response to complications,’€ the Zimbabwe doctors said.

‘€œThe failure of the public health system is paralleled by private healthcare whose cost, now charged in US dollars, has skyrocketed beyond the reach of the majority of Zimbabweans,’€ they added.

This week health workers from Harare Central and Parirenyatwa Hospitals protested against the state of the public health system. These health workers have continued to attempt to deliver health services in extremely difficult circumstances and marched to the offices of the Minister of Health and Child Welfare to present a petition calling for urgent action to be taken to restore accessible and affordable health care to Zimbabwe’s population.

Heavily armed riot police prevented the group from proceeding further than Leopold Takawira Street outside of Parirenyatwa Hospital where they had gathered at 8am. The group then held their protest within the grounds of Parirenyatwa Hospital for 4 hours before riot police entered the hospital grounds at 11:45am and forcibly dispersed them, assaulting several health workers in the process.

The Medical School of the University of Zimbabwe was closed indefinitely this week after it became impossible to continue to teach medical students in non-functioning health institutions.

ZADHR has called for the following urgent action to be taken:

·               The government should declare the cholera outbreak a national disaster and solicit international support to bring it under control and restore supply of safe water and sanitation systems to Zimbabwe’s population.

·               Measures should be taken to provide adequate medical supplies, drugs and equipment to Zimbabwe’s hospitals and clinics. While long term sustainable measures are ultimately required, there is a need for urgent interim assistance to restore functionality to Zimbabwe’s health system.

·               The Government must guarantee quality for health professionals and to ensure that conditions in which these skills can be retained are put in place (including adequate remuneration and safe working conditions).

The South African Cabinet said yesterday it was ‘€œextremely concerned about the political impasse that is creating a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe’€.

‘€œThe reported outbreak of cholera in parts of that country is a clear indication that ordinary Zimbabweans are the true victims of their leaders’€™ lack of political will and failure to demonstrate seriousness to resolve the political impasse. The Government is disappointed to note that political interests have taken priority at the expense of the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans,’€ the statement said.

Cabinet said South Africa would immediately assist the people of Zimbabwe to address the cholera outbreak as well as scaling up malaria control activities in the cross border area.

South Africa was already in discussions with other countries in the region and the World Health Organisation in this regard.

‘€œA strategy will be put in place on an urgent basis to provide assistance to the people of Zimbabwe and to provide support to our health authorities in the Limpopo province to enable them to cope with the serious situation,’€ Cabinet said.

An Interdepartmental Task Team would also be set up urgently to identify and implement measures to ensure that the reported service delivery crisis in Zimbabwe did not lead to increased cross-border movement to the health facilities in the Limpopo province that are already over-stretched.

The team will be led by the Department of Health and will include the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Water Affairs and Forestry, Provincial and Local Government. Other departments will be joining the team on a needs basis.

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