Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health Strives to Rectify Past Missteps

Efforts Underway to Fix Issues Stemming from Former Minister Chiwenga’s Tenure

by Adenike Adeodun

In Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Health and Child Care is currently working hard to address and fix issues left by the former minister, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga. During his time in office, Chiwenga made decisions that have left a complex legacy, including the controversial firing of striking nurses and restrictive policies on international recruitment. These are challenges that the current administration is working to overcome.

Chiwenga took over as minister in August 2020 during the global COVID-19 pandemic, replacing Obadiah Moyo, who was dismissed over corruption allegations involving a US$20 million contract for coronavirus testing kits. Despite expectations for improvements in the health sector under Chiwenga’s leadership, some insiders believe that his tenure may have worsened existing challenges within the system.

One major criticism was his handling of human resources in the health sector, particularly his decision in April 2018 to dismiss 16,000 striking nurses. This decision was quickly reversed due to public and professional opposition. This incident highlighted a broader issue within his administration – a tendency to make decisions without proper documentation or consultation, which further destabilized the health sector.

The current Health Minister, Douglas Mombeshora, challenges these critiques. He argues that significant progress was made during Chiwenga’s tenure, and his administration is continuing with many programs initiated under his predecessor. However, when asked for details on these initiatives, Mombeshora’s responses were lacking, highlighting a possible disconnect between the ministry’s public assertions and the tangible impacts of these policies on the ground.

Further complicating the transition, the government implemented measures to curb the brain drain, such as stopping the issuance of clearance letters for nurses seeking employment abroad and proposing laws to restrict foreign recruitment of healthcare workers. These actions have been perceived as attempts to forcibly retain medical personnel in a system struggling with poor pay and working conditions, thereby worsening the sector’s challenges.

The backdrop to these ministerial challenges is a healthcare system under severe strain. Zimbabwe faces a chronic shortage of medical professionals, with only an estimated 3,500 doctors for a population nearing 16 million. The healthcare workforce is regularly overwhelmed, and strikes have become common as workers advocate for better conditions and pay. The government’s response, including making it illegal for healthcare workers to strike for more than three days, has been criticized for not addressing the root causes of these protests – inadequate funding and outdated equipment.

In response to these ongoing challenges, the government has been making strides to formalize and rectify the ad-hoc policies previously proclaimed by Chiwenga. This includes revisiting the command-style management tactics that, while intended to impose order, often led to counterproductive outcomes. Moving forward, there is an acknowledgment from within the government that a more balanced and consultative approach is necessary to truly reform the health sector.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care’s current efforts to navigate these complex challenges illustrate the delicate balance required between implementing decisive leadership and fostering a collaborative, well-supported healthcare environment. As Zimbabwe continues to grapple with these issues, the focus remains on creating a sustainable and effective health delivery system that can meet the needs of its population and address the systemic challenges that have plagued it for years.

As Zimbabwe moves forward, the health sector remains a critical area for reform and investment. The legacy of past leadership continues to impact current efforts, requiring a thoughtful and inclusive approach to policy-making. With adequate support and reforms, there is hope that the Ministry of Health and Child Care can overcome these challenges, improving the health outcomes for all Zimbabweans and stabilizing a sector vital to the nation’s well-being.


Source: Newsday

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