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'Babies are dying'. When will Mnangagwa act on Zimbabwe's death trap hospitals?

She's being called the doctor who moved a nation. This week Azza Mashumba, the head of paediatrics at Harare's main-and-in-desperate-straits Parirenyatwa Hospital, made a tearful plea to the health minister for support.

"Babies are dying," Mashumba said, tears running down her cheeks.

Senior doctors at "Pari" now say that shortages of drugs and vital equipment mean they can only attend to emergencies.

That, said, Mashumba, means this: her unit is delivering still births and disabled babies.

Her raw emotion captured on video has now been viewed tens of thousands of times.

WATCH: Babies are dying

Will President Emmerson Mnangagwa finally wake up?

His wife Auxillia - who promised to help doctors when they went on strike in December and January - is on a two-week visit to New York to attend a UN gender summit together with other top government officials. It might not be a luxury holiday. So far there are no pics of Auxillia squeezing in a bit of shopping a la Grace Mugabe.

But still, Zimbabweans are asking questions. Where are the priorities?

More to the point: how many syringes, bandages and bottles of Betadine might have been bought for the cost of sending officials to the Big Apple?

Another Pari doctor, Faith Muchemwa, told Health Minister Obadiah Moyo the burns unit she heads doesn't have fresh bandages or antiseptic to treat wounds. Staff have taken to washing and reusing bandages resulting in cross contamination and hospital-acquired infections. "Patients are dying more than ever," she said.

What happens now?

Zimbabweans are divided. Touched by Dr Mashumba, some on Twitter have called for Zimbabweans who can to donate towards the running costs of hospitals. Others are firmly opposed to that: why should citizens have to do the work of the government when they already pay taxes, they say.

Besides, this isn't just a forex shortage problem. The doctors themselves told the health minister that simply changing the way state hospitals are run will go a long way to ending the crisis in the public health system. In particular, the tender system for supplies is laborious and clunky, and eventually costs lives.

Bandages can and should be bought locally with local money. But that's not always happening.

Clearly worried, the health minister has said changes must be made. State media has just announced that US$1 million has been found to procure vital medical supplies.

But Mnangagwa needs to show more sensitivity to win over a sceptical and angry public. His government needs to show it is imposing the same levels of austerity upon itself as it is on the people of Zimbabwe.

If not, the tears of Dr Mashumba will be in vain.

Oliver Matthews is a freelance reporter based in Zimbabwe.

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