Abridged article for PSI from Naadira Munshi

In Zimbabwe, where there have been three cases of COVID-19 (March 27), with one fatality, working conditions for health care workers are already dire, with a shortage of resources and medicinal supplies.

Health facilities are understaffed, have low standards of occupational health and safety, and do not all have constant access to water. Furthermore, health workers are paid shockingly low wages.

In the time of a global pandemic, a collapsed health system – and economy in general – is cause for legitimate fear.

The Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA) has gone on strike, along with doctors and customs officials, demanding:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) – Health workers have no personal protective equipment, and without it they have a greatly increased risk of infection;
  • Access to constant water supply – In some hospitals the water supply is erratic. Hygiene is primordial in the fight against COVID-19. Without access to water, health workers face a higher risk of infection;
  • Risk allowance – given the increased risk to workers’ lives and the dramatic conditions in which they work, health workers are demanding a risk allowance, in a time where many will be overworked and may pose a risk to their families;
  • Access to training and information on COVID-19.

Health sector unions have had to fight for PPE in other countries in the sub-region as well. On 17 March, Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU) held a march, with many hospitals holding sit-ins to demand PPE.

While the government has responded by providing some PPEs, there are not enough, and nurses fear that they may have to take further action should the equipment run out. In general, unions are concerned about the lack of PPE and testing kits.

Southern Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world, and governments alone do not have the resources to provide protective equipment in sufficient quantity. One reason is the massive cuts to funding and rise of privatised health care. “More than ever, we need to requisition private hospitals and health services. Everyone should get the same treatment and quality of care to fight this pandemic.”

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