Hospitals in cholera-struck Zimbabwe lack material, staff – UN official

WHO staff check patients' cholera records at a clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe

19 December 2008 – The overall health situation in Zimbabwe, which is suffering from its worst ever recorded cholera epidemic, is “quite worrying,” with medical staff basically not going to work because their salaries were too small, according to a senior United Nations health official who has just returned from the southern African country.

“I have seen hospitals that were basically empty – ghost hospitals, with no material, no staff,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) Disease Control and Emergency Operations Coordinator Dominique Legros told a news conference in Geneva today.

But some government staff had resumed working in centres treating cholera, which has infected more than 20,500 people, kI have seen hospitals that were basically empty – ghost hospitals, with no material, no staffilling over 1,100, said Mr. Legros, who had set up the UN control and command centre for the outbreak in Harare, the capital.

“Something we have to fix quickly is the discrepancies in salaries,” he added. “There are Government staff being paid government wages – which was very little in practice – and staff working for non-governmental organizations with much higher wages. We have to fix that and get incentives for staff to work in the health facilities.”

That was the priority if they were to save lives and improve the quality of care, Mr. Legros said.

The UN is planning for a worst-case scenario of 60,000 cholera cases before the end of the rainy season, based on an estimate that half of the country’s population is potentially at risk.

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