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Last Updated: Friday, 22 June 2007, 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK
Zimbabwe dentist: 'We persevere'
In response to a recent report suggesting the health service has collapsed in Zimbabwe, the BBC News website asks a dental surgeon (name withheld for safety concerns), 55, about how he keeps his private practice going. Inflation is already 3,714% - the highest rate in the world, and just one adult in five is believed to have a regular job.

Dental equipment
The dental surgeon's wife travels to Dubai to buy basic supplies
It has become extremely difficult to practise normal dental procedures that require a quotation because what you quote today will have changed by the time you start the procedure.

The only practical thing is to quote a patient in US dollars.

We take this approach because the currency is so unstable.

Obtaining materials, equipment, spare parts and replacements is very hard to do because there are no suppliers in the country.

One cannot buy foreign currency from the government. Buying from the parallel market is the only way.

I have to send anything that needs repairing to South Africa and payment has to somehow be arranged between myself and the company there... getting the money to them is a real nightmare.

Limited treatment

Basic things like local anaesthetic, sutures and bandages are always scarce. My wife travels to Dubai to buy my supplies.

Zimbabweans at a bus station
Our most current problem is my staff not being able to afford their transportation to work
Dental surgeon, 55
Harare, Zimbabwe

We are operating under difficult circumstances indeed.

But I am determined to carry on. We Zimbabweans, we persevere.

Despite what some say, Zimbabwe's health system has not collapsed completely. I say this because patients can still visit hospitals where they will receive treatment, albeit limited.

And there is much lacking.

Qualified personnel have emigrated en masse. Then there's the issue of post-operative care... because of the lack of drugs and other items necessary that specialised care requires many operations are not possible at government-funded hospitals here anymore.

Subsidising

Private clinic and hospitals are still operating though.

Dentist checking teeth
Carrying out normal dental procedures is extremely difficult

Our most current problem is my staff not being able to afford their transportation to work and then back home again each day.

It is the most recent difficulty. So far we are getting round it by subsidising. I can't keep increasing their salaries outright because then they will just get taxed at a higher bracket.

Instead we call it a travel allowance.

A lot of my colleagues have left and gone to neighbouring countries or overseas. But if you have been in practise a long time - 27 years, like me - you own your own practise, your home... What does one do?

You can't just pack your bags and leave. I can't. Who will look after everything I have worked so hard to get?

Poor country, poor family

I trained overseas and then I came home because I felt I had a contribution to make.

The worst scenario I have in my personal life is that I cannot provide for all of my children's needs.

When I was at college overseas I used to tell my friends that I was poor. I came from a poor country and a poor family.

All my father owned was a bicycle.

But, I would tell them don't worry, once I am a professional I will go back to my country and become successful and wealthy. Life would be good.

But now, because of the situation in Zimbabwe, I find that I am calling on those same friends of mine again to help with my children's tuition fees.

It is very hurtful to feel that you can't look after your own children.





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