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They are exhausted and demoralized, after years of hard work for meager salaries in impoverished hospitals: in Zimbabwe, Virginia, Josephine and many other nurses dream only of exile to leave a dying health system.
Her blue nurse’s uniform still on her back, Virginia Mutsamwira picks up the recipe of the day in the grocery store she keeps in her house near the capital, Harare, before going to feed chickens and rabbits: given her salary, she has no choice and she multiplies odd jobs. However, at 52, Virginie has just returned from a grueling twelve-hour session in a clinic in Cold Comfort, a poor neighborhood near Harare. She treats there, according to her, four times more patients than the ideal gauge.
“The number of nurses is very insufficientshe said as she plopped down on her brown sofa. It’s bursting. And frustrating, because we can’t provide quality care. » Soon she will follow the lead of the nearly 1,800 nurses – more than 10% of the country’s public hospital workforce – who emigrated in 2021, mostly to Britain. She has to feed her family of eight and ” ensure [sa] retirement “she told AFP.
Virginia has already passed the English test required to obtain a visa in the United Kingdom, where wages are ten times higher than the 190 euros per month paid on average in Zimbabwe. Since Brexit, immigration rules have been relaxed to attract nurses and caregivers.
The Zimbabwean health system is in agony. Like the country’s economy, weighed down for ten years by a serious crisis. Food, electricity, fuel, everything is missing. Those who remain chain the hours, to fill the gaps in the schedules.
Josephine Marare has worked for twenty years at the Sally Mugabe public hospital, one of the largest in the country. “We are constantly overwhelmed because a lot of nurses are leaving”she laments.
The chronic under-equipment completes to break his morale. “Imagine working in a hospital where there are no bandages, water or basic medications like painkillers”, lists the nurse. If she finds the money for a visa, she will leave, ” like the others “. This exodus is prompting new requests for passports. In the capital, before dawn, queues form in front of the administrative buildings that deliver them.
Some of the most qualified nurses accept junior positions, as long as it’s abroad, says Simbarashe Tafirenyika, president of a nurses’ union. “A carer in the UK earns a lot more than a nurse here”he explains.
The main cause of this exodus is “low wageshe points out. People have to pay school fees, put food on the table. If someone has an opportunity, he leaves. »
” We hire “
Questioned by AFP, the government’s Health Service Board, which rates and appoints health personnel in the public, recognizes that the departure of so many nurses is damaging the quality of care. “Losing experienced employees is always a challenge”notes Livingstone Mashange, its spokesperson.
Their website opens with a photo of nurses and a message in bold: ” We hire. » Recruitment and training have been launched. Retirees have returned to work.
In Britain, the Covid pandemic created additional demand for nurses, especially as Brexit had drastically reduced the number of those coming from Europe.
When Jason Mutambara, 45, received his first paycheck, the equivalent of 3,200 euros in England, he felt like ” Win the lottery “. “We are not even thinking of coming back for the moment”, lets go of the nurse. He left a year ago and can now easily pay for his four children’s schooling.
Britain should continue to hire in the years to come. According to a report published in June by the Health Foundation think tank, its health system (NIH) is facing a staff shortage of 93,000 employees, some 42% of whom are nurses.
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