ZIMBABWE: Student nurses take over health care

Zimbabwean nursing students are holding the fort at the country's health clinics as professionals flee the country's deepening crisis. Nursing students are deployed at medical institutions as interns as part of their studies. But a chronic brain drain, and regular strikes by medical practitioners - those who have not left the country - has seen students taking responsibility for health care before graduating.

Qualified Zimbabweans - including doctors, nurses, engineers and lecturers - are leaving in droves, seeking greener pastures and escaping a nearly decade-long political and economic crisis that has subjected the country to President Robert Mugabe's increasingly repressive rule and driven inflation up to a world record of 231 million percent.

Asked to comment on the issue, Zimbabwe's Deputy Minister of Health, Edwin Muguti, was evasive. "Why do you want to create a crisis out of nothing?" he asked. "If there is any student who is complaining, tell them to address their concerns to me."

Writing in the British Medical Journal last month after a visit to Zimbabwe, Kate Adams - a general practitioner and a trustee of the Zimbabwe Health Training Support group - said students had no choice "but to be there".

Adams wrote that nurses and junior doctors in a public hospital in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, had stopped working over poor pay and conditions. The article was reproduced with permission by a local weekly newspaper, The Zimbabwean.

"One ward was being staffed by two student nurses who had no choice but to be there. These students are hungry. Each day they eat the same repetitive diet as their patients, sadza and cabbage, which has little nutritional value," Adams added.

Clever Bere, president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu), claimed the use of student nurses and doctors in place of qualified staff had increased patient deaths in the health care system.

"We need doctors and nurses with adequate knowledge and training. The use of students puts the lives of patients at risk. The number of patients dying as a result of this has increased in the past three years." The student leader said students also had inadequate and archaic teaching materials. "There have been unprecedented and unnecessary deaths in the past few years. If you go to mortuaries at our hospitals, they are full to capacity," Bere added.

Nurses who qualified last year (July 2010, September 2010, and November 2010) are not yet working... Why at the same time they are bonded are they not given their diplomas? This is not fair - these people are losing their clinical experience!

  • • bDelmar