Bulawayo City Council has been put under pressure to introduce 24-hour clinics at a time when financial challenges stalk the local authority to the extent of even failing to pay its workers on time.
This comes as residents in the city have petitioned the city fathers over their traditional eight-hour per day business of their clinics which they feel denied them adequate access to health care.
City fathers have indicated that they have no capacity to operate round the clock due to the huge costs involved.
At the moment, council clinics operate from 7:30am to 4pm between Mondays and Fridays, leaving residents having to resort to private or public medical institutions which in most cases are found in areas surrounding the city centre.
Only maternity departments in council clinics operate 24 hours a day and through weekends.
City council-run clinics operate in such a way that almost every suburb, particularly high density, has one conveniently situated to cater for the people in the vicinity.
A report of the general purposes committee meeting held on May 28 indicates that ward 4 councillor Silas Chigora felt that there was merit in the petition by the residents.
“There was need to explain why council was not able to offer a 24-hour clinic service,” Chigora said.
He said that residents were not happy with the level of service currently provided at the clinics.
“Yes, council was understaffed and resources were strained. In view of these constraints, council was offering primary healthcare only and could not operate a 24-hour service.”
Chigora also said it was unfortunate that government had also failed to pay health grants to local authorities and in this regard council should issue a statement explaining why it was not able to offer the 24-hour services.
The council revealed that due to a government freeze on hiring, the clinics were operating with skeletal staff.
It also revealed that council clinics have a staff complement of 164 nurses instead of the required 313.
Chigora, however, told Southern News that councillors were in full support of the 24-hour health service at clinics.
“As councillors, we are in full support of the 24-hour initiative but the residents should be prepared to pay more for that service because what it means is right now for example if a clinic is manned by two nurses then we will have to employ four more nurses for that station for us to be able to run three shifts,” he said.
However, Bulawayo rights activist Khumbulani Maphosa, who has been leading the “Open 24-hour clinics campaign”, argued the failure by the local authority to consent to their demands is an assault on their right to health.
He added that the council’s financial excuse does not hold water.
“On the issue of resources – I humbly submit that the local authority can easily get funding for this venture through several fundraising models that include donor partnership funding, partnership with residents, utilising set ratios from the community retention scheme, among others,” he said.