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Harsh Realities in the State of Zimbabwe’s Hospitals

Each year in Zimbabwe, 5,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed and more than 1,500 deaths are recorded. “Cancer is set to overtake HIV and AIDS as the leading cause of death in Zimbabwe. The disease is often diagnosed late and with very few oncologists in public hospitals, most cancer patients lose their lives prematurely,” a 2019 report tabled by the cancer committee in Zimbabwe’s parliament revealed. Resources for cancer patients were already thin before the pandemic, with fewer than 300 radiographers registered to practise in Zimbabwe in 2019. Parirenyatwa hospital received 7,000 cancer patients in 2018, and 2,000 died. These are all people who would not be able to receive treatment at all during the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2020 study by the World Health Organization found Zimbabwe recorded 32.1 percent premature cancer deaths in 2016, compared with 23.3 percent in South Africa. This death rate is expected to surge. While private hospitals are still operating cancer services, spaces in them are limited and most people cannot afford the $1,000 to $2,000 average cost for a course of chemotherapy, as well as extras such as $650 to be admitted to hospital and $500 for specialist tests. But today even rich Zimbabweans are finding these avenues closed because of the pandemic. They, too, are now being forced to confront the reality of a public healthcare system that has been underfunded for decades.