Health care workers in Zimbabwe have condemned the government’s plan to criminalize their recruitment to work in other countries as part of efforts to reduce a medical brain drain. Zimbabwe’s vice president and health minister, Constantino Chiwenga, said the country will introduce a law to make it illegal for foreign nations to hire their health care workers.
Zimbabwe’s Association of Doctors for Human Rights says any attempt to prevent health care workers from leaving the country for better jobs would be illegal.
The head of the association, Dr. Norman Matara, told VOA Friday the government’s plan to criminalize foreign recruitment of health care workers was shocking.
“Also in our constitution, the Zimbabwe constitution, it guarantees citizens have the right to move freely within the country or leave the country,” Matara said. “We don’t know why those comments were made by the honorable minister of health. The government continue to use scare tactics and command approach to solving health care problems.”
Matara was responding to comments Wednesday by Zimbabwe’s vice president, Constantino Chiwenga.
Chiwenga, who doubles as health minister, said the government would introduce a law against foreign recruiting of its health care workers to address a medical brain drain.
“If one deliberately recruits and make the country suffer because it lacks the required professionals, that’s a crime against humanity,” Chiwenga said. “If people die in hospitals because there are no nurses and doctors and somebody who has been so irresponsible of not training their nationals but wanting poor countries to train for them it’s a crime. That must be taken seriously.”
Matara stressed that Zimbabwe’s health care workers are choosing to leave.
“The government should note that health workers are not being pulled away from the country but pushed away from the country by the meager salaries they are getting,” Matara said. “They are being pushed by the worsening economic crisis in the country. They are being pushed by poor working conditions: lack of equipment, lack of sundries, lack of medicines in the hospitals that they work in. We urge the government to improve working conditions, pay a living wage, you will find that people will not leave the country.”
Eustina Shava, a nurse who is leaving Zimbabwe in May for better work in Canada, said leaving her home country is not her preference.
“If we were being given enough money, I don’t think anybody would love to leave their families, their relatives and work abroad,” Shava said. “But at the end of the day, we all want to achieve good things in life. We all want to buy houses, we all want to buy cars and we all want to send our children to good schools.
“That’s the reason we are reaching to recruiters. They have done nothing wrong. They are actually helping us to achieve certain things in life.”
Zimbabwe’s Health Services Board said in November more than 4,000 nurses have left the country since 2021.
The Zimbabwe Medical Association says the country has only 3,500 doctors for a population of almost 16 million people.
Health care workers regularly go on strike over poor pay and working conditions.
Zimbabwe’s government said it doesn’t have enough funds for raises or better equipment and in January made it illegal for health care workers to strike for more than three days.
Reuters contributed to this report.