Recently the government announced that it does not have the capacity to remunerate more than a thousand of state registered nurses who were then issued with their diplomas as government has suspended the programme of bonding nurses. This assertion which amounts to acceptance by the government that it is abdicating in its duties has some bad taste in it especially in view of the fact that it is premised on the spurious excuse that the government no longer has resources to pay nurses. The move paves way for nurses in the country to not only seek greener pastures in neighbouring countries but put at risk the lives of the residents who have to go to ill-equipped and ill-manned hospitals. Initially government would withhold diplomas for nurses who completed their training arguing that they were supposed to be bonded to Government health institutions for at least three years.
While this is clearly an easy exit for the government which usually finds it easy to run away from its responsibilities (remember the teachers’ incentives), this move puts pressure on the already overburdened patient-nurse ratio. It is also a perpetuation of the old syndrome where patients are left to suffer because there are no nurses to attend to them and the results have been very glaring considering infant, child and maternal mortality. At a time when HIV/AIDS has depleted the health sector the government needs to find a way of harnessing all the resources at its disposal.
In its insincerity the government of Zimbabwe wants Zimbabweans to believe that it cannot continue bonding nurses, who have played a pivotal role in as far as reducing the health crisis is concerned, because of lack of resources. This cannot be so because Zimbabweans are aware of the diamonds being looted at Marange and the leakages that have become the order of the day in most of Zimbabwe’s border posts. While money is available to pay Members of Parliament, senators and councillors who are ill-equipped for governance tasks (judging from the little that the GNU has done) it is tantamount to betrayal for government to claim inadequacy of funds. More so the public service commission conducted an audit in January 2011 which revealed that there are between 45 000 and 70 000 “ghost” workers on the government payroll. The people who could not be traced impact heavily on the state’s already dry coffers. The national treasury and Public Service Commission should ensure that these people are removed from the payroll as the salaries accorded to them could benefit hospitals that do not have adequate nursing staff manning them.
The flimsy resources argument cannot stand the test of reality especially in view of the fact that Zimbabweans are aware that wall of police stations are awash with advertisements of vacancy notices in the security forces. Clearly if they are resources to continue recruiting for the army and the police forces why should the government fail to allocate resources to an essential sector like health.
The Zimbabwean government is indicating left and turning right in its purported fight against the brain drain. History is replete with statement of complaints about the brain drain and the many steps that the government is taking to avert this. Its actions on the nurses indicate that the brain drain argument is superficial and a political excuse for failure to provide essential services. The nurses will benefit countries like Botswana, South Africa and Namibia where they will not only be appreciated but also paid handsomely. The government invests a lot into the development of nurses’ skills but instead of making use of the nurses so that they plough back into the nation’s coffers through tax and also assist in improving service delivery.
The importance that the government should attach to the revival of the health sector cannot be over emphasised. The contribution of nurses towards achieving that feat is also blatant. The expectation is that government should be business as unusual. Efforts should be made to ensure that the money leakages in our economy are blocked and recovered resources channelled towards the health sector. In addition to that alternative means of resourcing like public-private partnerships should be employed. Otherwise even major referral hospitals will be reduced to clinics.