Still in her nurse’s blue uniform, Virginia Mutsamwera picks up the day’s sale at the grocery store she runs from her home near Harare before heading out to feed the chickens and rabbits: On hers, she has no choice but to do other things. Careers.
The 52-year-old Zimbabwean has just returned from a grueling 12-hour shift at a clinic in the Cold Comfort slum. He says he sees four times the ideal number of patients.
“There are not enough nurses,” he said, falling on a brown sofa. “It’s stressful and frustrating because you can’t provide quality care,” she adds.
He will follow in the footsteps of the nearly 1,800 nurses, more than 10% of the country’s public hospital workforce, who immigrated last year, primarily to the UK.
She told AFP she had to feed her family of eight and “pension insurance.”
He has already passed the English language test, which is a requirement for a visa to enter the UK, where salaries are 10 times higher than the average of 190 euros ($197.65) per month paid in Zimbabwe.
After Brexit, visa rules were relaxed to attract nurses and caregivers.
Zimbabwe’s health system is moribund, as is the economy, and has been in serious crisis for 10 years. The lack of everything: food, electricity, fuel. Those who stay are working long hours to fill in gaps in schedules.
Josephine Marari has worked for 20 years at Sally Mugabe General Hospital, one of the largest in the country. “We are always overburdened with work because so many nurses are leaving,” he lamented.
The chronic lack of equipment is another factor that dampens morale. “Imagine you are working in a hospital where there is no bandage, no water, and no essential medicines, such as painkillers,” the nurse says. If you get the money for the visa, it will go ‘like the others’.
This exodus led to the emergence of new applications for passports. In the capital lines are formed before dawn in front of the administrative buildings.
Simbarashe Tafirenyika, president of the Nursing Union, said some of the most qualified nurses accept entry-level jobs as long as they are abroad.
“A nursing assistant in the UK earns much more than a nurse here,” he said.
The main factor in this exodus, he said, is “low wages. People have to pay school fees, put food on the table. If someone gives the opportunity, they will leave.”
After consulting with AFP, the government’s Health Services Board, which qualifies and appoints health workers in the public sector, acknowledged that leaving many nurses affected the quality of care.
“Losing experienced staff is always a challenge,” said spokesman Livingston Machang.
Their website opens with a picture of the nurses and a prominent message: “We are hiring.” Recruitment and training were initiated, while retired nurses returned to work.
In Britain, the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the demand for nurses, especially since Brexit has drastically reduced the number of nurses coming from Europe.
When Jason Mutambara, 45, received his first salary, the equivalent of $3,330 in England, he felt he was “winning the lottery”.
“At the moment we are not even thinking of going back,” said the nurse, who arrived a year ago. Now she can easily pay school fees for her four children.
Great Britain will have to keep hiring in the coming years. According to a report by the Health Foundation in June, Britain’s National Institutes of Health health system is facing an estimated staff shortage of 93,000 people, 42% of whom are nurses.
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