Health Ministry Struggles to Mend Chiwenga’s Disruptions, Insiders Reveal

VP Constantine Chiwenga
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HARARE, Zimbabwe — The Ministry of Health and Child Care is reportedly grappling to rectify the disruptions caused by former minister and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, sources told NewsDay.

Chiwenga, who took over the ministry in August 2020 following the dismissal of Obadiah Moyo over corruption allegations, is accused of creating significant operational challenges. His tenure included firing striking nurses without proper consultation.

Moyo was removed after accusations of illegally awarding a US$20 million contract for coronavirus testing kits, leading to his arrest in June 2020. When Chiwenga was appointed, President Emmerson Mnangagwa emphasized the need to stabilize and reform the national health system amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

However, insiders now claim that Chiwenga’s leadership may have exacerbated problems within the ministry.

“VP Chiwenga created chaos at the Health ministry, and the new team is working to fix that,” a source disclosed. “He made proclamations without proper documentation, complicating processes like obtaining Certificates of Good Standing for nurses seeking work abroad.”

Health Minister Douglas Mombeshora denied these allegations, stating, “Those are lies. We are continuing with many programmes and projects initiated during his tenure. Significant progress was made.” He did not specify which projects were being advanced.

Health Permanent Secretary Aspect Maunganidze did not respond to queries.

In October 2022, the government reportedly halted issuing clearance letters for nurses, aiming to prevent them from leaving for better opportunities abroad. By February last year, Chiwenga announced plans to introduce a law to curb the foreign recruitment of Zimbabwean healthcare workers, addressing the severe brain drain in the sector.

“Now the new administration is formalizing Chiwenga’s ad-hoc decisions,” the source added. “The command approach was overused and backfired at times. Remember when the VP fired all striking nurses, only to reverse the decision days later.”

In April 2018, the government dismissed 16,000 striking nurses, intending to replace them with newly trained and retired staff. Chiwenga, overseeing the social services cluster, instructed the Health Services Board to hire unemployed trained nurses and recall retirees. The funds initially set aside for striking nurses were redirected to implement these changes immediately.

The Health Services Board reported in November 2022 that over 4,000 nurses had left Zimbabwe since 2021. The Zimbabwe Medical Association notes that the country has around 3,500 doctors for nearly 16 million people, with healthcare workers frequently striking over inadequate pay and poor working conditions.

The government claims insufficient funds to raise salaries and upgrade equipment and, in January last year, made it illegal for healthcare workers to strike for more than three days.