This week, like most Zimbabweans, I was beyond devastated to learn seven babies were stillborn in one night at Sally Mugabe Central Hospital, formerly Harare Central Hospital, because their mothers did not get adequate medical care due to a nurses’ strike, as a dispute over working conditions cripples the public health delivery system.

Out of the eight pregnant women who underwent caesarean sections on Monday at the hospital, only one successfully delivered a baby.

Nurses went on strike countrywide last month demanding US dollar salaries, which the government says it cannot afford. The strike has left public hospitals with skeleton staff and doctors and senior nurses overstretched at a time when the country is struggling to deal with spiking Covid-19 infections.

What is distressing is that the stillbirths were preventable.

According to medical doctors at Zimbabwe’s biggest referral hospital, some of the women’s uteruses ruptured because nobody was there to monitor them. Doctors say expecting mothers are also bleeding to death and that 80% of deliveries are stillbirths.

The stillbirths are just a reflection of the state of the country’s public hospitals, which have become a death trap to citizens.

Dr Takudzwa Mudzingwa this week offered us a peek into the state of public health institutions when he shared a heart-wrenching daily experience on his Facebook page.

“The end of every shift is filled with sorrow and depression; you are exhausted by the cries of mothers in pain, mothers dying, the faces of all those dead babies you could have saved only if the system was functional,” he narrated his daily ordeal.

“During that shift you make a list of 20 women with pregnancy emergencies who need caesarean sections. You get to the theatre and find that there are no theatre nurses (they also on strike).

“You get into the theatre and the anaesthetist is told that there is no anaesthetic, no gases, no propofol and no ketamine.”

Dr Mudzingwa said there are not enough beds and they are having to deliver babies in the corridors. Expecting mothers are spending hours sleeping on the benches or cold floor before they are attended to. Smaller clinics, which usually attend to some of the expecting mothers, are closed due to the strike.

Cry my beloved country. The majority of women cannot afford over US$500 being charged by private health institutions for normal delivery and this does not include the thousands being demanded by private doctors.