For many a Zimbabwean, attaining a nurse aid certificate is a golden stepping stone towards achieving lifetime goals. With a worrisome formal unemployment rate of around 80 percent, many graduates in Zimbabwe have never stepped into a working place, at least for the profession that they pursued at varsity. On average, some take five years to a decade before getting a formal placement for their various degrees.
Whether or not a Zimbabwean graduate attained their degree with flying colours, finding a job in the Southern African country has always been an uphill task . Most companies have downsized or closed shop altogether due to the harsh economic climate. The industrial sector which used to employ a significant chunk of graduates has since broken, with little to no prospects of resuscitation.
Frustrated by shrinking opportunities in the country, most Zimbabweans especially the youth opt to enrol at a local institution for a first aid certificate so that they can leave the country. In an interview with a local media outlet, Lorraine Siziba, a student pursuing a nurse aid certificate indicated frustration that she has with the country’s job market.
"I have given up. I can't spend my whole life holed up here, hoping that one day things will change. Years are passing by and soon I will be past my prime. I have already made arrangements that when I get the certificate, I am going to the United Kingdom," Siziba clarified.
Siziba's case is just a tip of the iceberg. A nurse aid recruitment craze has hit the country, with many nationals scrambling to get the certificate in the hope of making it to the United Kingdom in search of a better life. Zero prospects of change in economic and political fortunes in the country are understood to be the major push factors necessitating the decision.
The UK, which recently advertised vacancies in the health sector, is one of the countries paying nurse assistants lucratively. The UK says its health system needs to fill 110 192 posts left vacant after the death of frontline health workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The shortages include 39 652 nurses and 8 158 medical doctors, according to the latest quarterly data for vacancies published by the National Health Service (NHS).
Nursing assistants in the UK earn an average of £20 000 per annum (US$26 000), which translates to about US$2 100 per month. Nurse aide certificates have become a prized possession in the country. Desperate Zimbabweans seeking to escape the country's never-ending socio-economic crisis are flocking to different institutions that have sprouted offering the nurse aid training certificates.
A survey done in the country showed that registered institutions such as Angel Care Home, Ocean Bird Nurse Aide Training Centre, and One Africa Trust are charging between US$100 and US$200 for the qualification. Overall, a nurse aid forks between US$300-450 in order to complete their training.
Owing to the surging demand, service providers for the certificate and English tests hiked the price for their service. Faced with no option, these costs are nothing compared to investment in a degree without a job guarantee.
Scammers have also sprouted, milking unsuspecting citizens their hard-earned cash. Zimbabwe Red Cross (ZRCS) secretary-general Elias Hwenga said there was a need to tighten the noose on institutions and agencies that offer bogus nurse aid and first aid qualifications.
"Lately, we have witnessed an increase in the number of bogus agencies offering nurse aid or first aid training in the country," Hwenga said.
He said there were many organisations purporting to be working with the ZRCS in the training of nurse aides.
"As an organisation we are looking into the matter and we are doing investigations to get to the bottom of the story with regards to these bogus agencies," Hwenga said.
The rush for the nurse aid certificates comes at a time when the government is struggling to stem the mass exodus of health professionals in search of better pay and working conditions.
Last year, the government announced plans to ban doctors and nurses from embarking on strike for more than three days under new proposed amendments to the Health Services Act. The Health Services Act was enacted in February 2005 to provide for the establishment of the Health Services Board (HSB) and the transfer of persons engaged in public health service delivery from the Public Service Commission (PSC) to the HSB.
Under the Health Services Amendment Bill, worker representatives who face charges of inciting nurses and doctors to embark on a strike action deemed illegal could be jailed for three years in what authorities argue is necessary to ostensibly "instil discipline" in the health sector.
Human resources experts however argue that such moves are a gross violation of labour rights and have called upon the Emmerson Mnangagwa government to cushion health professionals against the insistent vagaries of inflation and economic meltdown.