HARARE – Given the state of the country’s public health institutions, it is surprising to learn that there are qualified doctors who are not employed.
At most referral centres in Zimbabwe, be it at district, provincial or national level, patients spent long hours waiting to be attended to by a doctor.
Besides the shortage of doctors, health centres have had to endure debilitating shortages of basic drugs and equipment, owing to the paucity of resources in government coffers, especially in the last decade and a half.
In yesterday’s edition of the Daily News, we quote the Zimbabwe Medical Association — a representative association for all medical doctors in Zimbabwe — claiming that training institutions are churning out more doctors than public health institutions can absorb.
Government differs with this position, insisting the current situation is a result of lack of interest by doctors to serve at hospitals in remote areas of the country.
Zimbabwe has three medical schools, producing an average of 250 doctors every year, a figure that could easily deal with the said shortages. Last year, junior doctors — who man most public hospitals in the country — went on strike no less than twice, citing low salaries, limited career options, inadequate resources and poor working conditions among many other issues.
It is against this background, we believe government must clear the air on the goings-on. There is need to prioritise the health sector when allocating resources. It is a critical sector that has to be fully-resourced.
We understand the financial constraints currently affecting government but we have also seen evidence of skewed priorities on the part of the country’s decision-makers when they allocate funds.
Although the other factors government cites in explaining why some doctors are not getting placements appear relevant, they also speak of poor planning on the part of the State.
The time required for administrative processes in relevant re-grading and promotions of in-post doctors due to move to higher level posts so that they free up the level of government medical officer (GMO) posts, which the Health ministry cites, could be shortened by expediting the whole process.
We hope this is not centralised at the ministry’s head office because surely all GMO upgradings could be handled at provincial level, which could possibly be cost effective.
The country’s health sector needs doctors badly and government must work out packages that will improve retention of the few that we have.
Perhaps what makes Zimbabwe’s situation curious is that the majority of doctors trained in the country leave within five years of graduation to practice abroad, often in Britain, the United States and Canada, because of the lure of better pay, working conditions and career development opportunities.