Betrayal of health professionals in Zimbabwe
I have a moral duty to be involved!
By Dr Brighton Chireka
The medical professionals currently working in Zimbabwe are working under difficult conditions. Their wages cannot sustain them and to make matters worse the Zimbabwean government has now failed to even pay these hardworking health professionals their December salary on time. This is unacceptable and there is no excuse for this to happen. We are critical of our health professionals when they down their tools but we treat them as if we can do without them. It is an open secret that health professionals are well sort after world over and each and every country is doing its best to retain its professionals but not our government.
We need to act sooner rather than later as we will lose these professionals. I am sadly one of them that left and I am offering my services to people of Kent in UK. I am still Zimbabwean and have my heart there but I have been away for the last 16 years meaning that I may be slowly becoming a lost generation. I do not want that to happen but the news coming from home is not pleasing to hear. I am really disappointed at the way we are treating our health professionals who have sacrificed their lives and careers to be in Zimbabwe. They could have been in UK like me but chose to put up with the harsh conditions in our country. We cannot make the conditions more harsh by failing to pay our doctors on time. This is disaster to say the least and the leadership that is presiding over this chaos must ask themselves serious questions about their leadership. How can you invest millions of dollars into training medical professionals that you are not going to look after? Why become a training ground for other countries? Why are you failing these doctors that have stood by you through thick and thin?
A lot of people will ask why am l involving myself with Zimbabwe. I am Zimbabwean even if I may not be local I have a moral duty to be involved.
Read below my detailed response as to why!
Zimbabwe has witnessed the largest brain drain in the last decade and estimates are that over 3 million Zimbabweans are scattered all over the world. I am one of the millions that left Zimbabwe and settled in the UK . Each and everyone of us who left our country has a story to tell but that is a talk for another day . I want to look at what investment was put into people like me by the government of Zimbabwe and the returns if any that there are getting from us in the diaspora.
I am a generation that started school the same year that we got independent. We had free primary school education and our parents complimented the government efforts by paying building fund or providing bricks to build extra classrooms. As a rural boy in Musana communal land I had a vision and looked forward to a bright future . On finishing my primary education I was fortunate enough to secure a place at Runusunguko high school. My first choice was Goromonzi but I was not ” bright ” enough to secure a place there . I made sure that I studied very hard to compete with students at Goromonzi and it paid as I got good grades at O level .
Rusununguko is a school with a history in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle . It is one of the 8 schools that were opened soon after independence to allow the war vets to further their studies for free. As I was not a war vet , my parents had to pay for my school fees . My time at Rusununguko was interesting as I had the opportunity of learning together with the war veterans . My interests saw me joining the war vets in marching as they put up the Zimbabwean Flag. ( This was called Gosawo) . The whole school had to stand at attention whilst we march and raise the flag or lower it down at the end of each day . Anyone who did not respect the raising of the flag was ” dealt with” severely by the war vets. The punishment was severe and involved being asked to put one finger of your left hand into the left ear and then touch the ground with one finger from the right hand. Having done that you will be asked to move around in a circle without removing your fingers. You would then be asked to stand at “attention” after moving around in a circle . The moving around in a circle would cause you to feel dizzy and when asked to stand at “attention” one would fall down. It was not a pleasant experience so everyone made sure that they did as there were told.
The four years quickly went and it’s was time to move to another school for A level. I then secured a place at Kutama College to do my A Level. Whilst there I witnessed the funeral of the then First Lady Sally Mugabe as her body was flown to Kutama and this marked my third and last time that I shook the hand of President Mugabe. The first was in 1986 when I was in Musana and the second was in 1991 when he visited Kutama College with the Australian Prime Minster. I soon realised the privilege of being at Kutama College when a few days before our final chemistry practical exam the college discovered that it had no special scale for the exam. The school had to secure a special scale to weigh chemicals in the Chemistry exam and the challenge was that it had to be imported from United kingdom. There was not enough time for this to be done in normal ways but thanks to the Presidential Office the scale was ordered and delivered to the college within 3 to 5 days. The exam came and we passed with flying colours as we were using first class technology.
I then moved on to the University of Zimbabwe Medical School to study medicine . On arrival we were greeted with $300 cash for initial upkeep whilst paperwork was being sorted for our full government funding. We had one week of orientation and beer was being sold at ridiculous low prices. ” Everyone ” was drinking and I found myself tasting my first beer a habit that took me 10 years to shake off . Within a few weeks we received a pay out of $2000 which was difficult to manage as some of us had been used to handling only $10 per term . There were lots of funding streams and some of us were good at exploring those avenues . At one point I was being funded by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Higher Education and Harare City council . This multiple funding was then stopped and I was asked to choose one funding stream and I chose to remain with the Ministry of Health cadetship.
During my training I prepared for my time as a District Medical Officer. I enjoyed my attachment in Mt Darwin, Gokwe, Zvishavane and Tshelanyemba in Kezi. I then completed my training and worked for 2 years at Parirenyatwa and Harare Hospitals. I used to laugh at my colleagues who were preparing to go and work overseas. I saw myself as a District Medical Officer but things soon changed and sadly found myself at Heathrow airport explaining to the immigration officers that I had come for holiday which has now turned out to be the longest holiday ever taken.
I have taken this time to narrate my journey so that my critics will know that I am a product of Zimbabwe and I have a moral duty to be involved. I was funded by tax payers funds and in an ideal society I should be working in Tshelanyemba in Kezi not Kent in UK. We cannot allow to continue to be the training ground for the developed countries. We need to be able to retain our health professionals. There is need for an open debate as to why people leave our hospitals. Some of the problems are obvious to see but a genuine enquiry will unravel a lot of issues that are not so obvious . That enquiry should involve those professionals in the diaspora as well, as some may want to come back. Addressing the reasons why some of us left will result in a double win for the country as it will result in retaining of the local doctors and also the coming back of some doctors who are working overseas. Sadly there is no tangible effort from the government to reach out to the professionals in the diaspora. Some of us do not have to wait to be invited as we are Zimbabweans and have a moral duty to be involved.
I am one of the many professionals in the diaspora that are passionate about our country and want to get involved. Our involvement does not mean we are superior or we know it all .We do not have solutions but we feel that the coming together of local ideas and our own will bring a much needed change in our health system. There is a lot of discussion in the social media and I take it as a start and what is needed is to harness that into something tangible. The debate on social media need to move away from a “complaints” forum to a “solution” forum.
Let’s work together to bring change into our health system. For too long, we Zimbabweans have concentrated on the problems, needs and deficiencies within our communities. How we understand health and wellbeing determines the way we respond to it. Typically a community is seen from the perspective of its largest deficit. (Looking mainly at what it does not have ). Assessing and building the strengths of individuals and the assets of a community opens the door to new ways of thinking about improving health and of responding to poor health. We need to look at the health professionals that we currently have and make sure that we create a conducive environment for them and give them the necessary tools to use as well as paying them a decent wage. That decent wage must be paid on time as well!
The glass tends always to be presented as half-empty, emphasizing what is missing, rather than being labeled half-full and thus conveying a message that progress has been made. I see our country as having something that we need to work on. As a community we must learn how to use what we have to create what we need. This calls for everyone to join the debate about our health system looking at ways we can use what we have to create what we need. We have dedicated health professionals that we must look after and then move on to get more not forget us in the diaspora.
This article was compiled by Dr. Brighton Chireka who is a GP and a Patient Engagement Advocate (PEA) in Folkestone Kent, UK. He is also an NHS Certificated Change Agent (CCA). You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Dr. Chireka has used all reasonable care in compiling the information, but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professionals for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.