HARARE – The government said yesterday that it had begun addressing the dire situation at public hospitals — including bringing in critically short medicines and equipment, which has led to embarrassing claims that doctors are now even using condoms as surgical gloves during medical procedures.
However, striking doctors retorted immediately, telling the Daily News that they were not convinced that authorities were serious about turning around the untenable situation within the public health sector.
The doctors’ strike — which entered its third week at the weekend, after they failed to agree with the government regarding their grievances and demands — has further crippled operations at the country’s dying public hospitals.
Health and Child Care deputy minister, John Mangwiro, told the Daily News yesterday that the government had started bringing in vital medicines and equipment in a bid to normalise the precarious situation within the public health sector.
“If you check with NatPharm, you will realise that medicines and equipment have been acquired.
“Equipment and drugs are in short supply, but I can tell you that just like you saw on TV, where the minister was distributing stuff … a lot more is coming. The president said as much at the Zanu PF conference” Mangwiro said.
This comes after doctors claimed that they were now resorting to using condoms at most public hospitals, due to shortages of disposable surgical gloves.
“We are forced to compromise beyond our limits, and doctors are asking as to when this bush medicine we are practising will end,” Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) treasurer, Prince Butawo, said.
He said doctors were finding it difficult to perform procedures such as digital rectal examinations (DRE) — which could not be done without gloves.
“So, instead of using bare fingers, we have now resorted to the use of condoms for us to perform such procedures.
“There are a lot of other things, for instance, gynaecology in women, where we now also have to use condoms instead of gloves.
“Even when somebody comes with a bladder problem, we are forced to send the patient away to look for a urine bag from pharmacies because hospital pharmacies do not have them in stock,” Butawo said further.
ZHDA secretary-general, Mthabisi Bhebhe, weighed in saying there was also a critical shortage of KY jelly — which is required for lubrication.
“We are forced to improvise using condoms because our hospitals do not have the KY Jelly used for lubrication.
“Even for strapping, we are using insulating tape and also our hospitals do not have plasters,” Bhebhe said.
The striking doctors are protesting the severe shortages of pharmaceutical drugs at public hospitals — as well as the selling of available drugs in foreign currency by retail pharmacies, the poor state of the country’s hospital infrastructure and their “falling” salaries which they now want the government to pay in foreign currency.
Zimbabwe’s health delivery system has for a while now been battling myriad problems, as a result of the country’s worsening economic climate.
In the past, major referral hospitals have had to suspend many services as a result of shortages of drugs — including painkillers.
At the peak of its economy, Zimbabwe made minimal imports of essential drugs due to the then healthy state of the local pharmaceutical industry which was dominated by CAPS Holdings.