BY WINSTONE ANTONIO
Health workers in Zimbabwe bear the brunt of savage politics and are victimised for providing professional services to victims of political violence and demanding better working conditions, United Kingdom-based health practitioner and MDC Alliance member Sandra Kudenga has said.
Kudenga, who left Zimbabwe in 2002 after alleged victimisation by the late former President Robert Mugabe’s regime, told NewsDay that many health professionals, among them doctors, nurses and psychotherapists, had remained silent victims of polarised politics, whose needs were neglected.
Health workers are currently on strike demanding salaries in the United States dollar, better working conditions and personal protective wear.
“The many ‘crimes’ that lead to the victimisation of health workers include demanding that enough resources be availed to effectively discharge their duties or for protesting the obscene disparity between a peacetime Defence ministry budget and a Health ministry grappling with an HIV and Aids epidemic and a plethora of other neglected tropical diseases,” she said.
“Zimbabwe’s institutionalised violence has spared no one. Health professionals have been managing the trauma and are being victimised for some of their efforts to ensure that everyone enjoys better health in the process.”
Added Kudenga: “It is sad how the healthcare workers who have cared for the victims of the protracted war of liberation, the Gukurahundi massacres, the abductions and tortures that accompanied every opinion that was deemed divergent, the violence that was attendant to the land seizures, and the brutal suppression of opposition voices over the past decades have been victimised.”
Last year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa threatened to track human rights doctors and lawyers who attended to and assisted the #ShutDownZimbabwe protests, victims.
“If you look at 2008, nurses across the country, particularly in Zanu PF strongholds including Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East, were targeted for attending to ‘wrong’ victims of political abuse,” Kudenga said.
“If such a celebrated paediatric surgeon like Dr Bothwell Mbuwayesango, one of the only three in the country and one who led the all-Zimbabwean team of doctors that separated co-joined twins in 2014 in an eight-hour operation, could be victimised in October last year through suspension without pay on allegations of inciting a job action by junior hospital doctors on the pretext of incapacitation supposedly under the second republic, then no one is safe.”
Kudenga said health practitioners should be allowed to air their grievances without fear of abduction, arrest or victimisation, and cited former Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association leader Peter Magombeyi’s abduction and torture.
“The bravery health professionals are beginning to show in telling the truth should never be allowed to die, but needs nurturing to ensure that the truth of Zimbabwe’s troubled past is healed through a multi-sectoral approach in which health is a major factor,” she said.
Thirteen nurses at Sally Mugabe Hospital and others at Mutare General Hospital were recently arrested and either fined or taken to court for protesting, while their colleagues at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals face ejection from staff quarters.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike on Friday said there was need to protect health professionals against intimidation in the course of their duties.
“The government should protect health professionals from political intimidation of any sort and ensure that health facilities constitute safe zones, where political intimidation cannot take place and where citizens can access available health services regardless of political affiliation,” he said.
“Political intimidation and victimisation against health practitioners while giving professional services to some political victims is unacceptable and legal action should be taken against it to restore the confidence of health workers. The government should ensure that any victim of political violence is afforded normal and reasonable access to emergency medical services.
“The government should take decisive legal action against any person obstructing citizen access to emergency medical services or interfering in the delivery of that emergency service.”
Added Rusike: “The Minister of Health and Child Care should make it clear within the health system and publicly that intimidation and victimisation at health services to health workers is unacceptable. The State is responsible for ensuring rights to life and access to health services, and thus the protection of health workers and clients seeking healthcare.”