…senior hospital staff join exodus
Kuda Pembere Health Correspondent
A toddler clings tightly to his mother as she waves goodbye to a group of relatives who have come to see her off at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare.
It is boarding time and Sarudzai Chitundu, 34 weeps softly as relatives separate her from her four-year-old son, now crying uncontrollably.
This could be the last time Chitundu sees her four-year-old until she saves enough to return home for holiday.
Chitundu is among thousands of Zimbabwean nurses and health care workers leaving the country for greener pastures as the Zimbabwean economy is gripped by unrelenting economic problems.
The popular destination is the United Kingdom, which is bolstering its health services industry following its decision to pull out from the European Union (EU).
Zimbabwe has long underpaid its health workers, with their meagre salaries only managing to pay rentals and food while most of it is spent on transport.
After enduring a gruelling eight years as a nurse in Zimbabwe, Chitundu says she has nothing else to offer.
Taking home, a meagre, $200, sometimes with Covid-19 risk allowances, the 34-year-old says going to the UK is only way to provide for her son.
“Who wouldn’t want a $S44 000 (P20 000) annual salary? Who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity?,” she chuckles.
Chitundu does not mind taking a job which is a grade lower than her current position.
She accepted a job as a nurse aide at hospital in Bradford (name withheld).
“I am going to be working as a nurse aide, but my goal is to become a senior nurse aide. I will use my experience as a nurse here to my advantage. After the required time I will be bonded as a nurse aide, I will then resume my work as a nurse,” Chitundu told The NewsReport.
“I could have achieved more if the remuneration in this country was good. I wish I had done this earlier; I could be far.”
Before she left Zimbabwe, Chitundu worked at Sally Mugabe Hospital, formerly Harare Hospital.
There she horned her nursing career. But with an acute shortage of sundries, couple with poor salaries, Chitundu had to say goodbye to the patients she now called family.
“I love my country but now, it has nothing to offer me. I took this job because I did not want to regret missing an opportunity to better my life,” she said.
The UK ,last December announced it would offer visas to health workers interested in working in that country.
Last year government announced that 2 000 health sector workers, particularly nurses had left the country. This was more than double the number of health care workers who had left in 2020.
“The UK is committed to becoming a high-skilled, high-wage economy and minimum salaries must reflect the professional skills that are required to provide quality care. The Health and Care visa will allow applicants and their dependents to benefit from fast-track processing, dedicated resources in processing applications and reduced visa fees,” reads part of a UK Government website post.
The response to the relaxation of employment and visa regulations has been met with an influx of experienced health care providers to the UK.
Having worked at St Giles Medical Rehabilitation Centre for 17 years, Simbarashe Gumbaya,39 also feels it is time he tried something new.
He has already enrolled for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examinations and will soon conduct Tuberculosis tests, which are part of the UK visa requirements.
IELTS examinations cost, $315 but many Zimbabwe are prepared to pay their way out.
“After all this time I have worked here, I haven’t made any significant investments. If you go out there, with the salaries on offer, you can work and do something back home,” Gumbaya said. “I might do just this English test instead of doing the Nurse Aide course and leave. Since carers are on high demand that side, I can start as one in an area like what I’m doing,” he adds.
The Red Cross, Nurse aide course has also become popular among Zimbabweans seeking to leave the country.
Due to the growing demand in their courses, The Red Cross has set up evening classes to cater for other professionals working during the day.
“I am primary school teacher by profession, but I have since enrolled for the two months course. It is better to go and work in a care home than suffer here,” Abdul Marima, 35 said.
Most of his colleagues have also enrolled to join the great trek to the UK.
“I struck gold”
Munesu Marima, 36 who found a job at a nursing home in Leicester in January says he “struck gold”
Now getting 10 times more than his salary back home, Marima can now take care of his young family back home.
He has no regrets about leaving Zimbabwe and is not thinking of coming back anytime soon.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime, I can make enough to buy a residential stand in eight months, this is all I dreamt of. My wife is happier, although I miss my family so much,” he said.
Although the workload is more than back home, “it is worth it,” he says.
Zimbabweans living in UK who own care homes and recruiting agencies have been on recruiting spree, with advertisements of jobs, flooding the internet and WhatsApp groups.
Shortages loom in hospitals
But back home, a crisis is looming.
As nurses and other health professionals leaving in large numbers, the hospitals suffer.
Nursing schools have also seen a significant drop in tutors and experienced staff, a situation that the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA) president, Enock Dongo says spells doom for the health industry.
“Nurses are leaving in large numbers and there are shortages being experienced already,” Dongo said.
“There is an acute shortage of senior staff and experienced nurses. This will have consequences as far as health services delivery is concerned. We are not going to recover anytime soon, our nurses will be half baked students if we do not change the status quo,” he added.
The Zimbabwean health sector has seen a decline over the past decade, with brain drain a major cause of poor service.
But until government addresses the welfare of health care workers, more will continue to leave.