A serious shortage of experienced health personnel has resulted in the country recording increased cases of wrong disease diagnosis at public hospitals, a recent survey has revealed.

According to key findings from the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH), many patients are turning to private healthcare providers for diagnostic services because of the poor state of the country’s public health institutions.

“Theatres and laboratories are usually not functional or do not have the staff to do the tests, as a result people usually get these services from the private sector as qualified health workers are not being retained, resulting in gaps in service delivery and many cases of poor service, negligence and wrong diagnosis,” the survey indicates.

The survey also revealed that Zimbabwe’s healthcare system faces a severe crisis, with a critical shortage of health workers threatening the well-being of many patients.

“High drop-out rates in public sector healthcare posts have resulted in vacancy rates of over 50% for health professionals. The out-migration of health workers has led to longer waiting times, reduced patient care time and compromised health outcomes.

“Health workers are the backbone of every health system. Healthcare provision depends very much on the people who provide the services to the citizens. Yet over the years, attention and support to the healthcare workforce has not received the priority it deserves,” the survey further noted.

Health and Child Care ministry spokesperson Donald Mujiri did not respond to emailed questions on the survey findings.

The health sector has been hit hard by a mass exodus of nurses, doctors and other key professionals seeking a better life in foreign lands, especially the United Kingdom.

Estimates say the country has lost over 4 000 nurses since last year, with many still leaving the country. This is happening as the country also faces shortages of essential drugs which have led to the decline in the quality of healthcare.

CWGH executive director Itai Rusike urged government to increase health sector funding to save lives.

“Addressing the key determinants of health will significantly improve the performance of the health sector,” he said.

Economist and policy expert Prosper Chitambara weighed in saying: “Basing on the key views that came out from provincial consultations, we noted that there was need for funding for mobile outreach services so that communities in remote areas and newly-resettled areas can access primary healthcare.”

According to the World Health Organisation, Zimbabwe is among 55 countries with below par numbers of healthcare workers.