Following a car accident in December 2018, Mr Abednigo Moyo (28) sustained a complete spinal cord injury with ASIA. A thoracic vertebrae T9 and T10 had been crushed leaving his spinal cord severely compressed.
Mr Moyo now uses a wheelchair. He no longer has bowel or bladder control.
Surgery which included some fusion from T8 to T12 had to be done. However, despite all these procedures, he will use a wheelchair all his life.
Mr Moyo was a primary school teacher in Mbazhe, Nkayi, and the accident occurred at a time his life had just started soaring. This injury was the last thing he needed.
“As I lay on the hospital bed, I received the most shocking news ever. I had complete spinal cord injury with ASIA. I will use a wheelchair all my life. This brought a chill down my spine, crushing all my hopes and desires for a brighter future as I rendered myself useless,” said a distraught Mr Moyo who now teaches at Josiah Chinamano Primary School in Bulawayo.
He continued: “We were travelling to Harare on official business. I’m told our car hit a cow, we rolled over it and a UD truck hit us after that. An ambulance was called and I was ferried to Mpilo Central Hospital. When I got there, a junior doctor came to attend to me but when he realised that I had a spinal cord injury, he left and they had to wait for a neurosurgeon who was said to be in Harare at the time. The nuerosurgeon eventually came after a week or so.”
Barely three years after qualifying as a teacher and two years into a degree programme with Solusi University, Mr Moyo had to quit the programme and contend with the implications of this life-altering injury against a difficult economy and a poor compensation plan.
“The most stressful thing is buying incontinence aids like adult diapers and catheters. They’re very expensive. For example, two weeks ago, a pack of 10 diapers cost $400. I need at least 40 per month, that’s $1 600. I also have an assistant whom I pay $350 per month. I can’t afford all this on my teacher’s salary. This injury has led me to live a life of a beggar. I never thought my life would come to this,” said Mr Moyo.
He said although he submitted the necessary paperwork to the country’s social security body — the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) — no help has come his way, two years on.
“I didn’t receive any compensation. I submitted my papers, but nothing has been done. I went for rehabilitation in South Africa but it wasn’t enough because I ran out of funds,” said Mr Moyo.
NSSA runs the Workers’ Compensation Rehabilitation Centre (WCRC) which serves as a referral centre for injured workers derived from the whole country. It is situated next to Mpilo Central Hospital and has a capacity to process 200 clients at any given time with 80 of them being in-patients.
“I once went to the rehabilitation centre in Mzilikazi but they wanted money. I then went to the NSSA offices in town to find out about compensation but they said they don’t cover civil servants and I should apply through pensions. I tried that but up to now, nothing has been done. The relevant authorities at provincial level and social welfare are silent about my compensation although I submitted the forms. I really wonder what will happen if my wheelchair breaks down. How will I go to work and move around? Life is really challenging for me,” said Mr Moyo who is worried he may never be compensated.
Mr Moyo’s house and his workplace are both not wheelchair friendly and he does not have the capacity to implement changes that will improve accessibility.
All his income is channelled towards diapers, catheters and his assistant’s salary, leaving him with very little to go by.
“Nothing has been offered by Government. Whenever I travel, I have to pay my fare, my assistant’s fare and my wheelchair attracts another cost. Sometimes the kombi guys refuse to transport me because of my wheelchair. Indeed, life is very tough and unfair,” he said.
People never expect that they would be injured in ways that would change their lives forever.
They are never ready and other than the physiological challenges, many have to deal with psychological distress over protracted periods of time.
Many suffer post-traumatic stress disorders as they struggle to accept the limitations placed upon them by the injury.
Workers specifically are not aware of their employers’ compensation plan in the event that they are injured or become sick due to unsafe work spaces until something tragic happens to them.
“I talk to a lot of workers after they have been injured and most struggle to accept their new conditions. It’s not just them who struggle but their families as well, especially spouses. A lot of these workers also ask about compensation issues but you find that after further investigation, they’re not insured,” said Ms Ethel Chamboko, a professional counsellor.
She said during her interactions with patients, most show signs of dejection and unwillingness to continue living.
“I totally see where they’re coming from. I mean, you can’t truly understand what they are going through until you have gone through it yourself,” said Ms Chamboko.
“The goal is to first help patients work through their emotions and help them see that being disabled is not the end of the world. It obviously takes a long time to get to this point but a positive outlook and finding ways of dealing with the new condition makes a world of a difference.”
According to statistics, there were 42 deaths resulting from work related accidents in Zimbabwe in 2019, a decrease from the 74 that were recorded in 2018.
In 2019, 4 574 workplace related accidents were reported while 5 231 were recorded in 2018.
NSSA marketing and communications executive Mr Tendai Mutseyekwa said the decline could be attributed to increased awareness of occupational safety and health procedures by employers.
“In 2017, the Authority launched a campaign called Vision Zero that seeks to achieve zero work-related illness, injuries or death. Vision Zero is based on the premise that all accidents are a result of human error and are therefore avoidable.
NSSA also conducts training sessions at work places and through our Inspectorate Division inspect factories to ensure that they’re operating in a safe manner. There’s also a possibility of under-reporting by some employers,” said Mr Mutseyekwa.
More needs to be done to educate workers on safe work practices and workers’ compensation.
The WCRC has an industrial clinic that caters for workers who are injured at work within Bulawayo and surrounding areas and offers basic nursing care.
“A medical advisor facilitates treatment and referral for specialised surgical management and other investigations. Audiometry and spirometry tests are also done as part of surveillance that feeds into OSH activities. Deserving clients are referred for rehabilitation services,” said Mr Mutseyekwa.
The Centre has a paraplegic unit which provides continued care and rehabilitation of spinal cord injured workers and the severely injured. An important part of the healing process is reaching out to families of victims of work-related injuries and deaths which Mr Mutseyekwa said is done through the Accident Prevention and Workers Compensation Scheme.
One of its objectives, he said, is to provide financial relief to employees and their families when an employee is injured or killed in a work-related accident or suffers from a work-related disease or dies thereof.
It also seeks to provide rehabilitation services to disabled employees so as to reduce their disablement and return them to their former employment or otherwise prepare them for a useful and meaningful place in society.
“NSSA covers work related injuries, sickness or death. The employer has to report the accident to NSSA but if they fail, the employee can report the accident. This scheme does not cover civil servants,” said Mr Mutseyekwa.
Members of the public are encouraged to accept the disabled, health workers should refer injured workers to the WCRC before disabilities become complicated and employers should provide employment, training or retraining and also modify their equipment or machinery to suit the disabled.