An image of the musician looking at the camera, wearing a hat.

An image of the musician looking at the camera, wearing a hat.

Photo credit: Garry Mapanzure, Facebook.

How the Death of Garry Mapanzure Exposes Zimbabwe’s Ailing Health System

Family and friends of the young musician, who was critically injured in a car accident, say he didn’t get the care he so desperately needed. They’re calling on the government to address the country’s dire lack of life-saving facilities.

A somber atmosphere engulfed the funeral of rising Afropop musician Garikai Mapanzure, widely known by his stage name Garry, who died in mid-October, after a car accident near his home in Masvingo. Mourners could not believe they had come to bury Mapanzure, who had been robbed from them at the young age of 25 years old. His family members and relatives were inconsolable–his wife’s voice quivered as she sang in tribute to him, gathered in front of people who’d come from all over the country to share in her mourning.

Footage of Mapanzure’s wife circulated on social media, as did condolences from other popular artists like Winky D and Jah Prayzah. And along with those messages, came ones of anger: many believe Mapanzure’s life might have been saved, if not for Zimbabwe’s failing health system. His death comes amidst a growing history of poor healthcare delivery, where Zimbabweans have died as a result of a lack of medicine, a shortage of ambulances and insufficient oxygen supplies.

Mapanzure’s friend, a student at Great Zimbabwe University, and his niece died on the spot, while the musician–who leaves behind a one-year-old son–spent hours battling for his life without proper care at Masvingo Provincial Hospital. It’s owned and run by the national government, and Mapanzure’s family blames its poor medical equipment for his death.

Echoing the family’s cries, #FixOurHealthSystem trended for several days on microblogging platform X, formerly known as Twitter–with posts calling for the government to account for Mapanzure’s death, and questioning why it’s failed to fix the country’s healthcare system.

A collapsing healthcare system

“The healthcare system in Zimbabwe failed Garry,” Kudzai Mapanzure Chikwanha, Mapanzure’s sister, said while speaking at his funeral. “I want to say it because they may hear us; maybe Garry would have been alive today. And maybe some other family won’t have to go through the pain we are going through.” Mapanzure suffered from his injuries for 12 hours while the family was told that there was no computed tomography (CT) scan used by healthcare workers to detect injuries around a body.

They also could not ferry him to Harare as there were no ambulances with oxygen support on board and no air ambulances. “He held on for 12 hours but there was nothing in Masvingo,” his sister continued. “To me, it just means that if anyone has a serious accident in Masvingo, it is a death trap, you are dead. You are as good as dead.”

Zimbabwe’s healthcare sector has been failing its people for more than two decades. There aren’t enough healthcare workers and basic drugs, including even paracetamol (pain medication), to administer, and there is a lack of critical equipment like intensive care unit beds.

“We have a lot of hospitals that are running without oxygen, no ambulances and no drugs and medicines,” Johannes Marisa from the Medical and Dental Private Health Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe tells OkayAfrica. “Our health delivery system is weak. We are doomed as a nation and we continue to lose many people.”

Emotional send off- Gary Mapanzure's wife sings at husband

Echoing this, Simbarashe James Tafirenyika, of the Zimbabwe Urban and Rural Council Nurses Workers Union, says many people are dying on the nation’s roads because of the lack of ambulances and poor equipment in hospitals. “Garry’s case has brought healthcare under the spotlight because he is popular but many people are losing their lives every day,” he says. “Our hospitals are dilapidated. The healthcare system is below standard.”

In September, Mthabisi Nembaware, a doctor, died in Zimbabwe’s third-largest city of Mutare after he was involved in an accident where he sustained severe injuries. Sources at Mutare Provincial Hospital where he was admitted told OkayAfrica he died because there were not enough ICU beds, and efforts to transfer him to Harare were futile because there were issues with air ambulances.

Just like Mapanzure’s death, Nembaware’s death caused an outrage among Zimbabweans both online and off, with people calling for the government to urgently act.

The brain drain and poor working conditions

According to the country’s Health Services Board, more than 4,000 nurses have left Zimbabwe since 2021. Marisa estimates the number is likely to have doubled by now. “Zimbabwe continues to lose critical staff for greener pastures with more than 5,000 healthcare workers having strolled away in the last 18 months,” he says. The majority of the health workers are leaving for the U.K. The number of Zimbabweans granted worker visas increased sharply to over 8,000 in September 2022 from just under 500 in 2019, according to the U.K. Office of National Statistics.

The brain drain is due to poor working conditions in Zimbabwe’s healthcare facilities, as well as poor salaries and remuneration. “The healthcare workforce, which is the bedrock of effective and efficient healthcare systems, has continued to suffer significant disturbances because the country has failed to stabilize the brain drain for a number of decades,” Itai Rusike, from the Community Working Group on Health, tells OkayAfrica.

Zimbabwe has only 3,500 doctors for a population of almost 15 million people, according to the Zimbabwe Medical Association. The country’s healthcare is heavily underfunded with the annual budget allocation falling short of the 15 percent threshold set by the Abuja Declaration.

Rusike says ambulances in Zimbabwe can take long to respond to emergencies, and when they do, they don’t have basic equipment or adequately trained staff to take care of patients during transit, also complicating recovery or risking fatalities in transit. “Emergency departments are under-resourced, without adequate equipment and staff to cope with the critically ill patients coming to them, including patients who have delayed seeking care until they have an acute emergency,’ he adds.

In early October, Francis Chingono, an executive at Zimbabwe’s biggest tea company, Tanganda, died after a stroke, and his family blamed in part poor health conditions in Manicaland Province. Chingono was initially admitted at Chipinge Hospital and they had to move him to Mutare because there were no medical experts there, but there wasn’t an ambulance to ferry him either.

At Mutare Provincial Hospital there were no neurosurgeons and they could not fly Chingono to Harare using air ambulance because the aerodrome in Mutare was malfunctioning, his family members said. He was finally transported to the capital by road using an ambulance that came from Harare but he later died at a private hospital.

“An unmitigated tragedy”

Rusike says air rescue emergency services, which are critical, are even more of a scarce healthcare resource in Zimbabwe: “There are private services for those able to afford the costs of private insurance or providers, but these are unaffordable for the majority, and thus only used by a minority of people.”

OkayAfrica contacted the Ministry of Health for comment about these issues but it has yet to respond. Rusike believes the deplorable state of the country’s health system requires urgent attention, especially giving priority to revitalizing the primary healthcare concept and philosophy that once worked well. Back in 2008, a report called the situation an “an unmitigated tragedy” and it’s only gotten worse, he says.

“The result has been a systematic decrease in the coverage of most basic services,” he says, and as such, the country is way off track of achieving its Sustainable Development Goals. Rusike wants what so many have been calling for: the government to ensure effective and good quality emergency medical services for all Zimbabweans. It’s a matter of saving lives.