Zimbabwean nursing colleges have abandoned specialised training for students because of a lack of medical equipment and poor funding. The latest development is likely to have a catastrophic effect on the country's health delivery system, itself currently in the intensive care unit arising from the 'brain drain' and poor salaries for medical practitioners.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony for nurses two weeks ago, Chief Executive and chair of the Parirenyatwa Hospital, Thomas Zigora, said the hospital's nurse education school was the only one in the country offering uncompromised training as the others had stopped because of a lack of training equipment and materials.
"All the other training institutions have abandoned specialised fields such as midwifery as there is no theatre, dentists, physicians," Zigora said. "We are the only ones offering a full package."
Zimbabwe has eight nursing colleges. There has been an alarming deterioration in working conditions for health personnel, characterised by poor salaries, lack of hospital machinery and equipment, accommodation, transport and lack of protective clothing such as gloves and gumboots that in some cases have led to the death of nurses after exposure to diseases.
As a result of failure to offer adequate training, and in an effort to stem the shortage of nurses, the government recently banned student nurses from falling pregnant during the course of their training. The government's introduction of the policy was in violation of a court order made in 2000 in a similar case lodged by a student teacher against Morgenster Teacher's College that had adopted a similar stance.
The student teacher had based her case on section 24 of the Zimbabwe Constitution which in part reads: "No person shall be discriminated on the grounds of gender". This was upheld by the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.
Some human rights groups have taken the matter of student nurses to court, arguing they must not be discriminated against. Commenting recently in the House of Assembly over the pregnancy issue, Deputy Health Minister Dr Edwin Muguti said it was up to Parliament to come up with a clear Act to ensure the rights of female students were adhered to.
"What we did was in response to a phenomenal increase in the prevalence of pregnancies during training. I suppose the honourable members who might have their children in nurse training institutions would rather prefer their children to complete training without falling pregnant.
"The interest of training we have to take into consideration and if the House can give us a more balanced policy on the issue we will be grateful. During the time we saw a phenomenal rise in pregnancies, the result was that so many students were missing lecturers, some of them falling sick and having to drop out before they complete the programme.
"When the baby is born, the maternal duties will now take centre stage and this was once again disrupting the centre stage of training. When we talk of training of student nurses, we are talking about proper training of manpower."
Tens of thousands of Zimbabwean students apply each year to go to nurse training schools because they are guaranteed a job in the profession arising from the shortage of nurses - in a country where unemployment stands at more than 80%. A nursing qualification for students is also a sure way of getting a visa to go to the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand which in recent years have been advertising in local papers for nurses because of a critical shortage in their own countries.
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