Harare — THE planned deployment of 640 primary care nurses to rural clinics countrywide from January next year is a very welcome development.
This move will definitely go a very long way in alleviating the staff shortage in public health institutions and particularly those situated in remote parts of the country.
A visit to rural health institutions will reveal a very sad story where nurse aides are managing clinics because of the mass exodus by health personnel to greener pastures within the region and overseas.
Doctors, physiotherapists, pharmacists, dentists and laboratory technicians are also among the many categories of professionals that have left the country.
Zimbabwe's health training programmes are one of the best in the world so much that a person with just a home-based care certificate run by the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society is capable of getting a job at nursing homes in some Western countries.
It is not a question of whether or not Zimbabwe loses state registered nurses (SRNs).
Those countries will engage anyone who has worked in any public health institution in Zimbabwe and this is because the quality of training in Zimbabwe is par excellence.
The country's health standards compete fairly well with overseas standards and this explains why Zimbabweans constitute the majority of foreigners working in some English health institutions today.
This poaching of Zimbabwean health personnel will continue regardless of whether the programme is shorter than the traditional SRN course.
Among the reasons why health personnel shun rural establishments is the lack of good housing facilities, shops and transport.
We know that the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare is doing its best to improve the working conditions of nurses and primary care nurses, but we still feel that more should be done to improve their conditions of service.
This will also attract more nurses into the programme.
There is a risk of losing these people to other countries as time progresses.
One way of getting round this problem is to identify people already living in rural areas who are willing to be trained to work in those areas.
This is because training people just for the sake of filling spaces may not yield results because not many people living in the cities are willing to work in environments they are not accustomed to.
If the town folk take on those jobs, it is mostly because they are desperate and will trek back to town no sooner a better opportunity arises.
There is a critical shortage of nurses in the country and the urban health institutions have not been spared.
The few nurses employed are overworked as seen at Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital, where there was only one nurse for some two wards on the ground floor during visiting hours on Friday last week.
For as long as these anomalies are not corrected, Zimbabwe will continue to be a net exporter of professional health staff.
It is also worrying that some countries have since shown interest in the primary care nurse programme for the obvious reasons of recruiting later.
The authorities have to take action now and make life for nurses in rural areas much more comfortable.