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Key findings
  • As of early 2017, a majority (58%) of Zimbabweans said they went without needed medical care at least once during the 12 months preceding the survey, including almost four in 10 (36%) who said this occurred “several times,” “many times,” or “always.”
  • Almost half of respondents who went to a public clinic or hospital during the previous year said care was difficult to obtain (46%) and arrived after a long wait or “never” (47%).
  • early four in 10 citizens (37%) said their ability to get medical care has gotten “worse” or “much worse” in recent years, while just one in four (25%) said things have improved.
  • Almost half (45%) of respondents said their primary source of water for household use was outside their compound.
  • Among those who tried to obtain household services such as water, sanitation, and electricity during the previous year, more than seven in 10 (72%) said it was difficult to get the services they needed, and 17% reported having to pay a bribe.

Like much of the rest of the world, Zimbabwe has confronted the COVID-19 pandemic with stay-at-home orders and advice to practice social distancing and frequent handwashing, hoping to prevent a wave of infections that would overwhelm the national health-care system.

But the country entered the COVID-19 period with a number of pre-existing challenges that could threaten an effective response to the crisis. A lack of water has been a frequent problem in cities as well as rural areas , making both handwashing and staying at home difficult. An underfunded health-care system has been further weakened by repeated strikes by nurses and doctors complaining of poor pay and working conditions, some of whom have been fired as a result .

Afrobarometer survey data from 2017 and 2018 confirm citizens’ experiences and perceptions of these problems. A majority of people reported going without enough clean water and without needed medical care. Many said water and health-care services are difficult to obtain. And citizens have consistently described the government’s performance in providing these services as inadequate. While these findings predate COVID-19, they suggest the background against which Zimbabwe must take on the pandemic.

Simangele Moyo-Nyede

Simangele is a research officer Mass Public Opinion Institute

Jonathan Kugarakuripi

Jonathan Kugarakuripi is a research officer for Mass Public Opinion Institute in Harare