Happy New Year everyone! (A little late, I know but I have been enjoying the desperately needed time off). I hope you all had a great holiday period and are ready to give 2022 your all! Having entered the new year quite differently to last year, I was reflecting on the place in my life I had been just a year ago. This brought me to the topic of today.
This time last year, unsurprisingly, I was in Zimbabwe. However, very surprisingly, I fighting to keep breathing. In January 2021, I tested positive for COVID-19 and for many reasons this alarmed me and those around me. For one, I am chronically asthmatic, but I also have always had quite an unreliable immune system. So, from the beginning of COVID, it was a running joke with my friends and family that out of everyone, I would be the least likely to survive COVID. Consequently, as you can imagine, my test result caused quite a bit of panic. Long story short, it was one of the worst experiences of my entire life and there were a few nights that I confidently thought that I would take my last breath. Luckily, I was surrounded by a lot of love and support and my body fought it’s hardest to heal and recover.
When I first got sick though, my personal circumstances were not even my main worry. My main worry was that I was in Zimbabwe. I thought to myself, at least if I had gotten it in The Netherlands, I would have a fighting chance… Imagine having this little faith in your country’s healthcare system.
“In recent months we have seen a dramatic deterioration of our health-care system. Virtually everything to do with health is failing to perform at even the minimum expected standards”, said Douglas Gwatidzo, chairman of the Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights.
The above quote was from as far back at 2008 and things have only deteriorated since then. In 2010, there were 1.6 doctors for every 10,000 people in Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Human Resources for Health information sheet, 2010). I am not sure of the statistics now, but I would bet that this ratio has gotten even pooper from 2010. In isolation, this statistic is already staggering, but just for comparison, The Netherlands has 39 doctors per 10,000 people (2022 statistic). Compounded on top of this is the fact that the doctors and nurses who are still Zimbabwe are barely paid. – That is the story behind the image above. In June 2020 (amidst the COVID-19 pandemic), nurses went on strike in Zimbabwe because they were not being paid whilst they were risking their lives on a daily basis.
But that’s not all, compounded on top of this, there is the issue of lack of hospital infrastructure. Let’s even put COVID-19 aside and look back at 2019. Already then, the country did not have enough basic facilities to support people with life threatening illnesses. Nearly half of the people diagnosed with cancer in Zimbabwe die because of the lack of radiographers and chemotherapy treatments. When the pandemic hit, there was less than 20 (I have gone high because I don’t remember the exact number), ventilators in the entire country. Hospitals are unable to undertake basic operations because of a shortage of anaesthetics, sutures and so on… In the times of modern medicine, Zimbabwe still has an extremely worrying rate of women who die during child labor because of the state of hospitals. So really, any contact with the healthcare system is like a death sentence. What I don’t understand, is our government’s lack of regard for this crumbling infrastructure. If COVID taught us anything, it was that rich or poor, you are in danger. In a situation like this, money or political affiliation means very little if there are simply no means of help in the country. But still, the government is letting the healthcare sector fall further and further into disarray. Although yes, there is no ignoring that the huge economic gap in the country fuels the government’s indifference towards the decaying healthcare system. As is clear, I made it out alive but that was after spending hundreds of dollars on medications, inhouse doctors’ visits, hospital visits, new equipment to help me breathe etc. This was possible because I am lucky enough to have the means and still, the cost of my survival was exorbitant. Majority of people in the country cannot afford even a fraction of these costs. So, they watched loved ones slip away because they were powerless to a system that has failed us terribly.
“The hospital advised us to take the patient to a private hospital nearby. But before we could find the money to pay the $25 appointment fee, he had already died.” (Anonymous)
Healthcare is a basic Human Right, but majority of Zimbabweans do not have access to it. I am utterly terrified of any of my loved ones getting sick in Zimbabwe (even something mild) because looking at the state of things, it seems that the chances of survival in a Zimbabwean hospital are slim.