WHILE patients countrywide are complaining that public health institutions are running without enough equipment and medication, some donated equipment at Bulawayo United Hospitals (UBH) has been gathering dust since last year.
The donations were part of Covid-19 interventions as the global pandemic crippled essential hospital services leaving the public without access to quality healthcare.
An investigation by our Bulawayo Bureau revealed that there are beds, anaesthetic machines, wheelchairs, desks, operating tables, paediatric incubators and furniture that have been stored at UBH’s recreational hall since they were donated last year.
The donors include the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which through the Embassy of Japan bought equipment worth US$500 000 for public hospitals including UBH.
In a statement, UNFPA confirmed that anaesthetic machines, operating tables, delivery tables, ICU beds, infusion pumps, examination lights, anti-shock garments, umbilical clamps, urinary protein test strips, Doppler foetal heart monitor and midwifery kits, among others were donated to UBH and other hospitals.
These were meant to help public institutions improve service delivery related to maternal and child health. The Rotary Club also made another huge donation to UBH last year including wheelchairs, midwifery kits, hospital furniture among other things which are stashed in the hall.
For a long time, women have been giving birth on mattresses on the floor due to a shortage of beds at the hospital.
Staff members, under pressure, have even extended the “floor beds” within the maternity wards to the balcony within the department to accommodate women. The department is functioning with only two beds within the delivery room and one theatre for C-sections meaning only a limited number of women can be assisted to deliver properly at any given time.
Ms Senzeni Mkhize from Nkulumane suburb told the Bulawayo Bureau of a nightmarish experience when she delivered her baby on the floor, while waiting for a bed at the hospital recently.
“The maternity ward is overcrowded and we didn’t even have enough space for sleeping hence we took turns. While I was waiting for a bed, I delivered on the floor and the midwives came rushing for the baby.
“There are no wheelchairs in this hospital to help those women who can no longer walk while in labour, it’s so sad and I hope the situation will improve,” she said.
One of the senior healthcare workers at UBH said management had failed to utilise donated equipment for a while now, leaving a lot to be desired as both patients and workers are struggling.
The worker said some of the equipment in the hall could readily address many challenges in the hospital and save lives, especially in the maternity ward which remains the busiest at the moment.
“We are grateful that after Covid-19 was declared a disaster, it exposed our circumstances as a hospital and some donations came through from several organisations including UNFPA and the Rotary Club to help us deal with the growing demands which were worsened by Covid-19.
“Since we had a fully-furnished Covid-19 centre, these resources went towards other departments which need it, but sadly we have lots of things gathering dust in the hall, we wonder why,” said the worker, who cannot be named due to ethical reasons.
According to dissatisfied staff members, some of the equipment awaits the opening of an obstetric fistula centre which has been under construction for more than five years, but a lot remains idle while patients are getting substandard services.
“It’s painful to see patients being turned away because of space, unavailability of theatre equipment, to mention but a few, when we know that we have such lying idle in our hall. Some of the equipment may have expired by now,” said one of the workers who bemoaned being forced to improvise to attend to patients, when equipment was gathering dust.
“Donors do not just donate; they make needs-based assessments. Some women are delivering and sleeping on the floor; the overcrowding is worrying but there is nothing much that can be done because we need to attend to them. It’s quite unsafe to be having pregnant women delivering without proper bedding and equipment as this puts the life of the child, and mothers in danger,” said another worker.
Contacted for comment, Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro referred this reporter to the Bulawayo provincial medical director Dr Maphios Siamuchembu.
“I can confirm that indeed we received some donations from various partners and it’s shocking to me that there is equipment that is not being used. Anyway, since I am not on the ground, contact the PMD so that you can go to UBH and tour the hall and get comments from him on what exactly is happening,” he said.
A visit was scheduled to the hall, but the meeting was cancelled at the last minute.
A representative of the doctors who preferred anonymity for fear of victimisation said a lot of anomalies were going unchecked at UBH which puts the lives of patients in danger.
“We received donations during the Covid-19 from last year, but sadly we are yet to see some of the equipment being used, months after the donation. We cannot freely talk about this issue as we are bound to be victimised by superiors, but we even sometimes see consultants taking staff from the hall without any clear explanation as to why they are using it for personal use in their surgeries,” said the doctor.
“We are often subjected to long shifts and we cannot help but sympathise with patients who have to squash in a few beds without wheelchairs when we know we have such. They may hide and say the stuff is for the mulled fistula centre but the truth is it’s only a few of those things that were specifically donated for the centre, the rest is just lying idle while patients suffer.”
Speaking during a handover of equipment worth US$1,3 million in March this year, Dr Mangwiro said the equipment will specifically strengthen the referral system and ensure the continuity of assisted delivery care in Harare and Bulawayo.
“The Government of Zimbabwe would like to thank the United Nations Population Fund for mobilising US$1,3 million from the Government of Japan to support the strengthening of emergency obstetric and neonatal care (EmONC) in Covid-19 hotspots of Harare and Bulawayo,” said Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care Dr John Mangwiro.
“We thank you for your valuable donation of eight (8) ambulances, anaesthetic machines, operating tables, delivery tables, ICU beds, infusion pumps, examination lights, Anti-Shock garments, umbilical clamps, Urinary Protein Test Strips, Doppler foetal heart monitor and midwifery kits, among others. The donated ambulances will help to strengthen the referral system for pregnant mothers.”
Mr Benny Moyo from Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association said UBH like other public health institutions had no representative from residents in the board hence residents had no voice.
“The challenge we have is these hospitals are for the ordinary residents but our concerns are not considered. We expect hospitals to offer quality services to members of the public and donated stuff should never be packed away at the expense of residents,” he said.
“People are currently struggling to get proper services at UBH and we do not have anyone to turn to. We wish that someone who has people at heart can look into this issue and other things affecting us since we have no channel to air our grievances at UBH.”