ZIMBABWE: Academic vacancies in health still high

Zimbabwe's brain drain crisis is still at "unacceptable levels" despite recent efforts to redress its crippling effects, new figures released by a parliamentary committee have shown. Universities remain hard-hit.

According to the latest report by the parliamentary portfolio committee on health, released a fortnight ago, because of the brain drain the African country has a vacancy rate of 63% for medical school lecturers, 62% for nursing tutors, over 50% for pharmacy, radiology and laboratory personnel, and 80% for midwives.

The report by legislators from both President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, said the country had only 31% of the required number of medical practitioners - just one of many frightening statistics on a worsening healthcare situation.

The report said after emerging from a decade-old economic and political crisis following the formation of a unity government between Mugabe and his opposition rival Tsvangirai, the coalition has failed to make significant improvements in service delivery.

Revelations about the crisis came just months after revelations that an initiative to fight the brain drain from universities was beginning to pay off, with 31 lecturers having returned to the country to teach in health faculties at higher education institutions and in hospitals on a short-term basis.

The sequenced short-term return programme, championed by the International Organisation for Migration, was launched last year and aims to bring professionals in the diaspora back to Zimbabwe. Afterwards they have the option to return to their new countries or remain in Zimbabwe permanently.

The new figures on a vacancy rate of 63% for medical school lecturers, were not surprising. A lecturer shortage crisis at the University of Zimbabwe was revealed by the parliamentary education committee in February.

It reported that the university's departments of animal science, community medicine, metallurgy and clinical pharmacology required 20, 18, 13 and 11 lecturers respectively - but had nobody in post.
Computer science and veterinary sciences both needed 13 lecturers but had only one each.

Psychiatry, geo-informatics and mining engineering also had one lecturer each but needed 16, 10 and eight respectively. The department of medicine had eight lectures but needs 26 while anesthetic, statistics, anatomy and hematology each had two lecturers instead of 16, 11, 10 and eight.