By Hopewell Chin’ono
There is NO normal human being who could not have been moved by the emotional plea for help by Dr Azza Mashumba who is the Head of Paediatric Medicine at Parirenyatwa Hospital.
Hers was a raw and clear reflection of a hidden painful and humiliation treatment of doctors and nurses by our authorities who have tragically failed to deliver where they are expected to.
That professional humiliation of doctors finally came to the fore today emotionally expressed and powerfully disconcerting, but devastatingly delivered by Dr Shumba with clarity leaving nobody in doubt of how the health delivery system has broken down.
After getting numerous calls from many doctors who are domiciled both home and abroad, and also from business people wanting to see how they can help the situation in our public hospitals, I think that it is time for US the citizens to act and help fix this embarrassing and yet deathly situation.
It is deathly because people are dying, the poorest of the poor, the vulnerable and the weakest in our society are being subjected to lower than bog standard healthcare by the government.
I made my name in television journalism and documentary filmmaking through producing documentary films that that looked at health issues in our country.
I have seen how the doctors and nurses at the major hospitals in Harare struggle to keep a straight face in the midst of a chaotic environment without the required medicines and other medical paraphernalia like mere gloves or painkillers.
I have seen poorly remunerated nurses take money out of their pockets at Harare Hospital’s psychiatric unit to buy medical drugs for mental health patients.
Today we heard how they have now resorted to washing dirty bandages in order to reuse them, how they are being forced to stop cancer treatment midway for lack of the required drugs, how they don’t have basics like needles and how doctors are now coming to work to simply certify deaths.
This is a catastrophic failure of leadership by the political elites in Zimbabwe, because they chose to buy three cars for each minister when they can’t even buy betadine antiseptic solution resulting in multiple cross infections in surgery.
They chose to buy hundreds of cars for traditional Chiefs and yet hospitals do not have ambulances, ministers fly first class around the world whilst babies are dying from lack of ventilators at Harare Hospital.
We can’t wait for the government and its many excuses to get things normalized in our hospitals because we have been here before in December and January this year regarding the situation in our referral hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo.
As usual many promises were made by government to normalize the situation, and yet today the government and its multiple propaganda accessories comically pretend as if they didn’t know about this dire and heartbreaking situation in these hospitals!
We should consult widely as compatriots and see how we can help normalize the situation from the rot it has become.
It will ultimately require sitting down with the relevant authorities and seeing how best we can assist the weakest and vulnerable members of our society through citizen interventions of donating the required medical accessories.
My initial idea is that we look at the four major hospitals, Harare, Parirenyatwa, Mpilo and United Bulawayo Hospitals.
We can either adopt units within these hospitals that urgently require intervention or we can adopt a whole hospital or assist it in any way we can as long as it makes life easier for these doctors and nurse, who are groaning with the pain subjected to them as a result of corruption and gross incompetence.
This will require doctors and nurses within these hospitals to come to the fore and lead, we will use our networks both home and abroad to help them get the necessary medical supplies required for them to do their work within reason.
Citizens who grew up in Harare and areas that are serviced by Harare and Parirenyatwa Hospitals can adopt these two major health institutions and give whatever they can either as a one off or monthly.
Folks who grew up in the Southern region of the country or come from areas that are serviced by Mpilo and UBH can adopt those two hospitals.
We can then donate whatever we have monthly to get the major medical supply shortages sorted whilst we seek long term solutions in partnership with government because they own these institutions.
Alternatively we can say that people who live in the UK can adopt Parirenyatwa Hospital, Zimbabweans living in the U.S. can adopt Harare Hospital.
Zimbabweans who live in South Africa and Canada can adopt Mpilo and UBH hospitals whist those in Australia and other countries can be split into the four groups.
The government can then focus its energies on what needs to be done after we have chipped in with our monthly donations whilst they look after district hospitals.
These are still raw and random ideas prompted by the realization of the health crisis on our doorstep, and how it will take more lives if we do not step in to halt it now.
These are ideas that I have which we can all work on by refining them and putting other new and better proposals on the table that can help solve this embarrassing man made health crisis.
Ultimately the responsibility for health care in Zimbabwe lies with the State, but until the State has fully grasped that reality, we can do what is within our means because the people who are dying are our kith and kin.
It is shameful for the rest of the world to watch our health delivery system become a death trap whilst we claim to be an educated nation.
In the event that we don’t get a buy in from government, we can come up with other plans that can help save lives.
Money doesn’t have to change hands because most people that I have spoken to are unwilling to let government handle their money.
After talking to doctors working at the four major hospitals, it was clear to me that the doctors do not trust the health authorities either, so the best thing will be to get a logistics company to do this for free.
Two major business people have already put their hands up and offered to do the logistics for free, but this is something that the people who will drive this initiative will have to sort out.
This shouldn’t be a political issue, it should be an emergency and social welfare plan to help stop people from dying needlessly!
We can simply establish reputable suppliers of what is needed in these hospitals, and then pay directly to them and get them to deliver the consumables to the hospitals.
There is so much that we can do including a Save Our Hospitals concert as a mid term initiative once we have halted the disaster from getting any worse than it is.
Those of us both home and abroad with international links to mega superstars can get them to offer their services and time for free, the same way I had managed to get CNN, ITV and the BBC to train and refurbish ZBC for free, unfortunately as usual, the initiative was blocked!
I would like to thank Dr Azza Shumba and her colleagues for bringing the reality in our hospitals home to us, some that we were oblivious to as a nation, very few were aware of the depth of the crisis unless they have used one of the hospitals lately.
Let us ignore the usual ZBC propaganda that was aired tonight, they will continue living in that cloud cuckoo land, let us focus on doing the right thing for our people.
The government was aware of this crisis, pretending otherwise is disingenuous and comical and shows that they are not serious about their never-ending and never delivered promises!
This is not the time for fighting or being disagreeable with either government or among ourselves.
I know that many of you have ideas, think about this and we can all distill all our ideas and come up with a solid plan of action!
We have a choice to either look whilst our people are dying or we do something about it as responsible citizens!
I now ask folks in healthcare to come forward and lead, we will assist you with the networking and logistics needed.
Every major country has Zimbabwean healthcare professionals, this is your time to stand up and be counted, and together we can do this!
I still hear the words of Dr Azza Mashumba in my head, “…there is just no urgency , we are trying so hard. We are making a plan. We are trying to come up with contingency plans.
Everything that we are trying to do is futile. We need support.”
Government must step forward and be responsible by allowing Zimbabweans who are willing to ship hospital equipment by removing the prohibitive duties, that is the least they can do!
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa Leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.
The recently departed music superstar Oliver Mtukudzi wrote the sound track for State of Mind.
It was recently nominated for a big award at the Festival International du Film Pan-Africain de Cannes in France and in the UK at the Heart of England International Film Festival. You can watch the documentary trailer below.