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Zambia hospitals overwhelmed

Rhoda Odhiambo
August 28, 2017

Zambia's government has acknowledged the country's health system needs to be revamped. Equipping hospitals with adequate supplies of medicine, constructing more health centers and hiring extra doctors are on the agenda.

Doctors at Equitorial Guinea looking at the file of a patient.
Doctors at Equitorial Guinea looking at the file of a patient.Image: imago/imagebroker

The gap between rich and poor continues to widen in Zambia. Those on the poorer end of the spectrum are not afforded basic rights such as healthcare.

Many Zambian's who live in rural areas have to walk more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) to access the nearest health facility. The situation becomes much worse for pregnant women and those in dire need of medical attention. These hospitals also do not have enough personnel to meet the needs of the people.

Demand outweighs supply 

Some 700 kilometers from the capital, Lusaka, is the Mansa General Hospital. Built 30 years ago, the hospital was constructed to cater for only one thousand patients - today it serves more than four million people. Also, Mansa's hospital does not have enough beds. Those without a bed sleep on mattresses on the floor. Patients have to wait long hours to see a doctor. 

35 year old Susan Siame, who is six months pregnant, is on the waiting bay in the hospital to see a doctor. She complains of stomach pains and has been waiting for two months for treatment.

"I have fibroids, I am six months pregnant, and I don't know if it will endanger the life of the fetus," Siame said. "This affects me in such a way that you really don't know what's happening to your body."

The first time mom has only been given painkillers to ease her discomfort. 

'A lot of challenges' 

Sam Mbewe, a medic at at the Mansa hospital, said the hospital has only five doctors. In an eight hour shift, each of the five doctors can attend to at least 500 patients. Sometimes, Mbewe said, they can end up working more than 100 hours a week. 

A map of Zambia

"It's a little bit pathetic because we have a lot of challenges," Mbewe said. "We do not have enough doctors, it's so frustrating because you have to attend to patients, who have different moods, [that] frustrates me even more." 

Data from the Ministry of Health shows that Zambia has a shortage of 3,000 doctors. The country only has 1,500 registered health practitioners. According to the World Health Organization, the doctor-patient-ratio in Zambia is pegged at 1 doctor for every 12,000 patients - as opposed to the WHO's acceptable standard of 1 physician to every 5,000 people. 

Health minister and Mansa Member of Parliament Chitalu Chilufya said that the government has embarked on a seven-year project to build six hundred and fifty health centers across the country and increase the medical training schools. 

Around 200 students graduate from Zambia's two medical training schools annually. Chitalu said almost all medical students that graduate are accepted for practice in hospitals across the country. However, due to poor working conditions in Zambia, they later travel overseas, especially to the United Kingdom, in search of greener pastures. 

Rights activist Kangwa Kamando added that the government also needs to build more modern hospitals especially in rural areas that will serve the communities.

"The population has grown and hospitals are still the same. Specialists are not easily accessible." Kamando said. " Expectant women, who have complications have to wait for three months or be referred to the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka. We really need to improve the health sector so that it can match to the growing population,"

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