With hundreds of doctors on strike at government hospitals in Zimbabwe and a deepening economic crisis, patients are flocking to United Methodist hospitals for care.
The influx of patients is taking its toll on the doctors and nurses who are still working and has resulted in critical shortages in medication, beds and equipment at some of the church’s hospitals and clinics.
Junior doctors started the boycott in September to demand better pay as prices soared and the country’s economy deteriorated, causing shortages of fuel and basic food. More than 400 of those doctors have been fired and 150 more face disciplinary action, according to BBC News.
At the end of November, senior doctors, who had been providing emergency services at public hospitals, joined the strike to protest the firings and deteriorating working conditions.
The crisis has sent patients to seek care at three United Methodist hospitals in Zimbabwe: Mutambara Mission Hospital in Chimanimani Chipinge District, Old Mutare Mission Hospital in Mutasa Nyanga District and Nyadire Mission Hospital in the Mutoko Mudzi District. The church also operates several clinics around the country.
“Patients are coming to our church hospitals and that has been happening at all times,” said Zimbabwe Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa.
Dr. Larry Tanyanyiwa, district medical superintendent for United Methodist Nyadire Mission Hospital, said there has been an influx of patients at the hospital since the strike began.
“Medical admissions went up by 40 percent, outpatients by 5 percent and maternity by 30 percent,” Tanyanyiwa said.
He said the mission hospital is coping well at the moment because of funding help from The Nyadire Connection, a nonprofit founded by a group of United Methodists in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which provides continuing support for the mission.
However, he said, the hospital can no longer refer emergency cases to public hospitals, which is affecting care.
Tanyanyiwa said he did not join the strike because he’s the medical superintendent.
“Ethically, there has to be someone to cover the hospital. Also, where I work, the community is so poor that I could not just sit and watch while people suffer. Although, I am also receiving the same salary as the rest of the other doctors,” he said.
The government pays salaries for medical staff at the church hospitals, Nhiwatiwa said.
Brena Chizhongo said the health care situation has been agonizing for those needing help. Her mother died at home on Nov. 19 and her body was brought to the Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals at around 10 p.m.
“The forensic pathologist was not there to certify that my mother had died,” she said.
Monica Nzarayebani is hospital administrator for Old Mutare Mission Hospital and she said that hospital too has seen an increase in patients over the past three months.
“Patients are coming from Mutare, urban areas, Makoni, Nyanga, Chipinge and some from Chimanimani District,” she said. “At times, we are forced to put beds on the floor. We are referring some casual patients to Mutare Provincial Hospital, but they are referred back, because there are no doctors, especially on ortho patients. Some patients were reported dead at Mutare Provincial Hospital casualty department before they were seen by doctors.”
She said the influx has strained the United Methodist hospital’s resources.
“We have shortages of medication. The two doctors and the nurses who are on duty are overwhelmed and burned out,” she said.
Nzarayebani said the operating room is not functional due to shortages of anesthesia drugs. She said the anesthetic machine is outdated and always out of order and there is no resident anesthetist.
“Doctors are forced to go and do cesarean deliveries at Mutare Provincial Hospital, leaving the rest of the patients who need the doctor unattended to,” she said.
Tinashe Maoko, administrator at Mutare Provisional Hospital, said the hospital is continuing to work as a team with Old Mutare Mission Hospital.
“Our relationship is like one body with different parts,” he said. “Currently, we have assisted Old Mutare Mission Hospital with fuel, an autoclave (disinfecting machine) and an ambulance facility to pick up patients.”
Dr. Emmanuel Ufonna Mefor, district medical superintendent for United Methodist Mutambara Mission Hospital, said the strike has affected the hospital and the way he does his job.
Mutambara has district hospital status for the Chimanimani District, which means it has government staff, some of whom have joined the strike.
“I am a missionary employed by the church and cannot join the strike. I can do what I can to help the patients,” Mefor said. “There are lots of patients and I cannot attend them all at the right time. … Sometimes it is overwhelming.”
While the doctors and nurses at United Methodist hospitals are feeling the pressure, patients who have received care are singing their praises.
Sheila Kandiyero, 17, from Redwing Mine Penhalonga, said she delivered her first baby naturally Nov. 30 at Old Mutare Mission Hospital.
“I was optimistic that I will get good service (at the church hospital) despite the ongoing strike. It happened as my expectations. I am grateful for the care and support,” she said.
Moila Tarumbwa and her husband came from Nyakatsapa Manica Bridge to have their first child, born Dec. 1.
“I came to Old Mutare to access maternal services because I knew that as a faith-based institution, they will not go on strike … I am thankful to the nurses and doctors of Old Mutare. To God be the glory.”
Taurai Mawadzi, who sought treatment for peptic ulcer disease, complimented the team at Old Mutare.
“Since doctors from state hospitals are on strike, I was wondering what could be the situation at Old Mutare Mission Hospital. To my surprise, I was received with a wide smile.”
Chingwe is a communicator for the Zimbabwe East Conference.