Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Health Reporter
MPILO Central Hospital is struggling to cope with the number or pregnant women flocking to the public institution following the decision to set aside United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) for Covid-19 cases.

This arrangement is valid until designated health centres which are all undergoing renovations are ready to admit Covid-19 patients.

Both Mpilo and UBH are the major referral hospitals that service Bulawayo, Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland North and South provinces. This has led to an increase in the number of women going to Mpilo to deliver, a situation which has been worsened by the ongoing nationwide nurses strike.

On normal days before the lockdown, Mpilo would help 25 women deliver vaginally and through the Caesarean section daily.

Of late, normal deliveries have risen to 42, with 10 C-sections daily and authorities have raised concern of possible consequences as there are at most two qualified nurses at any given time to monitor the women who are even sleeping on the floor due to overcrowding.

A Chronicle news crew visited the Mpilo maternity hospital yesterday and was welcomed by deafening silence along the wards which should normally be characterised by busy nurses going up and down to help women.

Patients were squashing in wards meant to cater for at most, six women as they await discharge after delivering.

Acting Mpilo clinical director Dr Xolani Ndlovu said the overcrowding was the first of its kind in the history of the public institution.

“We have been facing challenges even since before the nurse’s strike due to understaffing. This situation was further aggravated by the industrial action where we are recording an average of less than 50 percent attendance by nurses.,” said Dr Ndlovu.

“Initially, we had student nurses helping to cover the gap but they had to be withdrawn from clinical areas after an alarming spike in Covid-19 infections among the student nurses. The shortage was also further worsened when registered nurses and other staff started getting infected with Covid-19.”

Dr Ndlovu said Mpilo was forced to streamline its activities with some wards and departments being closed down such as the outpatients and private ward as well as suspension of elective surgical procedures.

“In spite of these measures, we still face situations where at times a ward is staffed by only one registered nurse. Recently, the Public Service Commission issued a directive that all Government departments must reduce staffing levels by 15 percent and have 14-day rotating duties, which is impossible to implement in our case due to the already gross shortage of staff. Even if doctors are all reporting for duty, nursing care is of paramount importance in the management of a patient,” he added.

According to Dr Ndlovu, UBH, in addition to Covid-19 patients, continues to attend to Covid-19 negative and patients whose status is unknown.

He said people should continue seeking other healthcare services that do not need admission as they still think UBH is strictly for Covid-19 patients only.

“This has led to an overwhelming abundance of people coming to Mpilo Central Hospital with patients from all over Bulawayo, with the worst impact being in the maternity hospital where there is now overcrowding and mothers in labour having to wait on the bench for a room in labour ward to clear. This morning at 0600hrs there were 12 mothers in labour with only two midwives to monitor them,” added Dr Ndlovu.

“This leads to an increase in adverse outcomes and burnout of the already overstretched staff. Even with the help of doctors also performing midwife duties, it is unsustainable.”

Dr Ndlovu said since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mpilo had put in place measures to reduce traffic into the hospital in order to reduce chances of transmission to and from visitors to the institution.

Acting Mpilo chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya commended the skeletal staff at the hospital which was helping women deliver even during the crisis.

“We commend them for working extremely hard during these very difficult situations to give ultimate safe delivery babies and safeguarding motherhood during these extra ordinary times of economic hardships and Covid-19 era. I would like to urge them to continue giving this passionate self-sacrifice as we are determined to work hard and offer healthcare services to our people,” said Prof Ngwenya. — @thamamoe.