WORLD HEALTH DAY April 7th 2020


[7th April 2020]

Nurses and Midwives

World Health day could not have come at a more necessary time.  To date, 74,866 people around the world have died of COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus, and 1,350,357 have contracted the virus.  COVID-19 has highlighted cracks in even the most sophisticated healthcare systems and has shown the importance of access to healthcare.

World Health Day 2020

Since 1948, 7 April has been celebrated as World Health Day (WHD).  WHD seeks to raise awareness of healthcare, celebrate strides made in various medical fields as well as highlight the importance of healthcare.  This year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is hosting the day with its focus on support for nurses and midwives. As we fight COVID-19 globally , now more than ever the importance of nurses and midwives can be seen.  Nurses are at the frontline of the battle with the virus and midwives are playing their part helping deliver babies in these difficult times.  They play a pivotal role in our society and as such must be celebrated and most of all thanked for the work they do daily.

Healthcare Under Zimbabwean Law

Section 29 of the 2013 Constitution affords the right to healthcare services to all people in Zimbabwe.  Under the section, the government must take all reasonable and practical steps to provide access to basic and adequate healthcare services throughout the country.  The section goes on to say all measures must be taken to ensure no one is denied emergency medical services and that the State must take reasonable measures to prevent the spread of disease.  From this alone, it can be seen that the government has a duty of a high standard to uphold when it comes to ensuring health services in the country.  Throughout the provision the word "must" is used, meaning that the duty is not optional but rather mandatory.  The provisions are important now more than ever.

Apart from the Constitution, Zimbabwe has other legislation relating to the provision of health services which give effect to section 29 of the Constitution.  This includes the Public Health Act and The Health Services Act, to name just two.  In 2001, the Zimbabwean Government pledged itself under the Abuja Declaration to commit 15% of its national budget to healthcare.  To date, very few African Union members have kept to this pledge.  And Zimbabwe certainly has not.  Zimbabwe is also committed to various other international treaties and conventions which oblige the country to make better health services and improve the healthcare systems.

Healthcare in Zimbabwe

Frustration over the quality of healthcare in Zimbabwe has been growing over the past few years.  Its poor quality has been shown by how Zimbabweans have now been dubbed medical tourists as they go to seek better health services in South Africa, Singapore, India and China.  Some who can afford it have the option of private medical care but the bulk of Zimbabweans are left to deal with public facilities and have to accept whatever can be offered at the time.

In 2019 however, the situation became tense as doctors in public hospitals highlighted the deterioration that has taken place in public hospitals.  As the year progressed, junior doctors and mid level doctors claimed incapacitation.  They demonstrated against poor pay – the introduction of the ZWD mean a massive devaluation of their salaries; and poor working conditions – in particular the lack of essential drugs and equipment.  A doctors’ strike then ensued which lasted for over three months and ended in an unsatisfactory compromise between doctors and the government.  By the time the strike ended lives had been lost and some doctors had left the country for greener pastures.  Medical students had been put on holiday indefinitely, which slowed down the process of bringing qualified doctors into the system. To date the statistics of those who were affected at the time are not readily available but what is evident is that the situation was dire.

It is no surprise that the most widely spoken about topic at the moment, given the COVID-19 pandemic, is the competence of health systems all over the world to fight the virus but more so the state of Zimbabwe's health system.  To date, the Minister of Health has said that Zimbabwe has nine positive COVID-19 cases and amongst those nine, one death.  The questions on everyone's mind are:  is the collection of statistics valid without appropriate testing, and if the virus spreads can our system handle this?

Reconciling Rights With The Situation on The Ground

Today being World Health Day we are offered a chance to rethink how far the health system has come and how far it has to go.  With the world being faced with a global pandemic the time has come for every nation to think on future health care policies that benefit not only the rich but cater for their general populations.  COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of a steady and well prepared health system as well as adequately equipped hospitals, clinics and health workers.

As seen above, what is actually taking place in our country regarding medical care is not in line with our Constitutional rights and our national value of Ubuntu.  As COVID-19 responses and measures are being drawn up, the government is reminded that the right to healthcare is a right guaranteed by the Constitution for all.  The government is urged to take up this opportunity to show its commitment to upholding the Constitution and its care for all the people of Zimbabwe.

We ask the Minister of Health and Child Care at this time to urgently take all necessary action to combat the spread of COVID-19  in Zimbabwe.  Decisive action must be taken.  Healthcare must be a right afforded to all. And statistical data must be transparent, readily available and truthful.  The Ministry of Health is also urged to provide more information to the public – and this information must take into consideration how people live in poor urban and rural areas and when, as is so often the case water, is not available. Above all we need protective clothing for our health workers and reliable testing.

As we think about present healthcare systems during World Health Day and how better to improve them, the public at large is reminded to adhere to the measures that the government has put in place in order to fight the epidemic we are presently faced with.


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