Zimbabwe: Unpaid Village Health Workers Approach First Lady

5 February 2018

Chitungwiza City Health Promoters (CHP) have approached the office of the First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa for mediation after spending 36 months without receiving their quarterly allowances. The workers have since been referred to the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, which superintends over council clinics.

Though the UNDP, which disburses funding for programmes undertaken by the voluntary workers, recently announced it is up-to-date with payment of its workforce countrywide, the 120 CHPs in Chitungwiza -- traditionally referred to as Village Health Workers (VHWs) -- are now threatening to withdraw their services to compel authorities to attend to their grievances.

The health promoters are supposed to receive $126 per quarter (three months) per person and they allege they last received their payouts during the first quarter of 2015. They are collectively owed over $50 000 and some of the workers interviewed said life for them had become so unbearable they could not even fend for their own families, even when they were expected to be caregivers for the community.

Spokesperson of the combined VHWs Mr Jim Diamond said they had exhausted efforts to get help from their immediate superiors, some of who had told them payment was being delayed by Ecocash agents.

It was ridiculous to suggest that a transaction would take as much as three years to get to the intended recipient, argued Mr Diamond. The health promotion officer for Chitungwiza , Mr Obed Mukuya, could not be reached for comment. A caregiver at Chitungwiza Clinic, Mr Munyaradzi Chizola, said some of the caregivers' working conditions were appalling.

"Practically, it is a Herculean task to expect someone who cannot look after himself to care for another. Our families are starving because care-giving is what is supposed to bring food on the table for them and yet for this long there has not been any money coming to us," he said.

"Our woes are further compounded by the fact that even the relevant accessories needed to carry out the most basic of our work are scarce and we are having to improvise. Imagine having to use bread-wrapping plastic instead of latex gloves, it even exposes us to infections."

Mr Chizola said their request for a standard uniform, carrier bags, bicycles and cellphones, which they had long signed for, was still outstanding. A month ago, UNDP intimated that due to the success of their operations with regards their work in HIV and Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, it would soon be updating its payments to village health workers (VHWs), whom it said were last paid in June 2017.

Harare, Bulawayo, Chitungwiza and Masvingo were said to have last received their allowances in September 2017. In light of these revelations, which they alleged were not reflective of what is obtaining on the ground, the Chitungwiza workers first gathered at St Mary's Clinic, where the plan to approach a higher office was mooted.

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