Botswana faces a shortage of nurses and doctors following a British funded campaign by the International Organization on Migration (IOM), which seeks to repatriate Zimbabwean health professionals living in the diaspora.
To illustrate the extent to which Zimbabwe’s loss in the health sector has been Botswana’s gain, the country’s Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, told delegates to the recent annual Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZIMA) congress that: “When I was involved in an accident in March, I was transferred to my good friend in Botswana to seek second opinion on my state of health only to find that the people who were attending to me were Zimbabwean doctors, Zimbabwean nurses and the whole health staff were Zimbabweans.”
The campaign by the IOM hopes to attract Zimbabwean health professionals in Botswana, South Africa and the United Kingdom to help contribute towards the improvement of health services in Zimbabwe and the training of health personnel at the University of Zimbabwe’s College of Health Sciences (UZ-CHS).
Under the IOM’s programme, the Temporary Return of Health Professionals to Zimbabwe (TRHPZ), health professionals such as doctors, lecturers, paramedics, nurses, environmental health technicians and pharmacists, can spend a period of two weeks to a month working in the country. Individually or as a team of medical professionals while in the country their work will include providing service at hospitals and clinics around Zimbabwe, conducting joint medical procedures with local personnel and lecturing at the UZ-CHS.
In return, IOM offers volunteers to the programme, fringe benefits that include flights to and from Zimbabwe, a basic living allowance while on placement and local transport in Zimbabwe to and from station of assignment (if outside Harare).
The Zimbabwean government, in conjunction with IOM, held a meeting in Johannesburg on Friday aimed at exploring ways of engaging the Zimbabwean diaspora living in South Africa in the socio-economic reconstruction and development of their home country.
Funded by the European Union (EU), the meeting which is being attended by senior Zimbabwean government officials, representatives from Zimbabwe’s private sector and civil society, donors and IOM officials, is a follow-up to initial consultations that the IOM held with Zimbabwean diaspora representatives in South Africa.
The meeting is the first of several that the Zimbabwean government and IOM intend to host in countries that have significant numbers of the Zimbabwean migrants such as Botswana, Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia.
As well as finding ways to engage the diaspora, the meetings will create a platform for dialogue between the Zimbabwean government and the Zimbabwean diaspora.
They also build on earlier IOM efforts to engage the diaspora in contributing to the future development of Zimbabwe. This includes a programme launched earlier this year aimed at helping redress some of the health shortages in the country by getting Zimbabwean health professionals living abroad to return for short periods of time to pass on their knowledge and expertise.
Botswana’s effort to address the shortage of health professionals is believed to have had a major boost from the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe, says a study by Gloria Thupayagale-Tshweneagae, of the Department of Nursing Education at the University of Botswana in conjunction with the Nurses Association of Botswana (NAB) and the Botswana Trade and Poverty programme (BTPP) based at the Botswana Institute for Development and Public Administration (BIDPA).
The study on the migration of Botswana nurses found that Migration of nurses in Botswana is not only limited to nurses in service but to those in education as well and it has felt impact on the demand and supply of nurses in Botswana.
The study states that as of 2006 government employed about 7 747 nurses, with 5 533 under the Ministry of Health and about 2214 under the Ministry of Local Government.
Between 1999 and 2005 about 232 nurses resigned from the public service, and about 18 deserted. In 2006 about 146 nurses resigned and 24 nurses retired.