BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
GOVERNMENT has tightened screws on nurses wishing to resign from the civil service as it battles to stem the massive exodus of health workers.
Hundreds of nurses are leaving the country for greener pastures following government’s failure to remunerate them fairly and improve their working conditions.
The exodus has almost brought the country’s health delivery to its knees.
Last month, government hiked fees for verification letters, a prerequisite for nurses to be employed in foreign countries, from US$150 to US$300.
The US$300 cannot be paid at its equivalent in the local currency.
To complete the verification process, nurses now have to go through numerous office stopovers, which can take up to five months for them to get the verification letters from the Nurses Council of Zimbabwe.
Nurses told NewsDay that the process was cumbersome, adding that it was a government ploy to discourage them from resigning.
They said public health institutions were under-staffed, while in some cases nurse aides constitute the highest nursing staff complement.
Health secretary Jasper Chimedza yesterday confirmed that nurses were leaving the country for greener pastures in droves, but referred further questions to the Health Services Board (HSB) and the ministry’s public relations department.
“Yes, nurses are leaving,” Chimedza said. “As to what the government is doing to resolve that, the national Health Service Board will respond. Send further questions to the public relations department,” he added.
For the past three years, nurses have been fighting with Chimedza and Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga, who they accuse of running the ministry military style since they were all former army officers.
Nurses have been engaging in endless strikes, demanding improvement of wages.
To avert further strikes by health personnel, Chiwenga introduced the Health Services Amendment Bill, which seeks to bar health professionals from participating in strikes.
The Bill has, however, been heavily criticised as undemocractic.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo said: “Nurses have lost hope that the government will address their grievances as the authorities had shut them out from dialogue, hence the massive exodus. For almost two years now, despite the various grievances that the nurses have, we have not had an opportunity to talk to the authorities.”
He said Chiwenga and Chimedza were not ready to entertain the health workers.
“They are difficult to reach. Nurses are heavily disgruntled, but they are defying the odds despite attempts by government to bar them from resigning. Due to the cumbersome process to get verification letters, nurses are resigning to be employed as nurse aides abroad. Some are selling their property just to get the US$300 to pay for the verification letter,” Dongo said.
He said some countries were considering waiving demands for verification letters.
Zimbabwe Professional Nurses Union secretary-general Douglas Chikobvu said: “The Nurses Council of Zimbabwe is currently processing verifications for nurses, but generally, the nurses countrywide are deeply worried and disgruntled because the process has become cumbersome and slow. Again, the cost of doing verification was inflated from $14 500 to a whopping US$300, making the cost prohibitive. There was a time government indicated an intention to take over the process, but as it stands, we have seen the Nurses’ Council still doing the verification process for nurses.”