Government attempts to hire recently qualified doctors to replace striking medical professionals hit a wall as graduates snubbed the offer in Zimbabwe.
The country has two medical schools housed at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), with a combined average of about 40 graduates annually.
In a letter addressed to the Health Services Board (HSB), the graduates sang the same tune as their seniors.
“We are greatly disturbed by the ministry’s efforts to undermine the genuine grievances raised by our fellow doctors and the move to try and recruit us to cover the gap created. We want to categorically state that we are in full support of our senior colleagues and believe in dialogue rather than duress,” they said.
Earlier, when vice-president Constantino Chiwenga announced the firing of at least 15,000 nurses, the government attempted to plug the gap by hiring new graduates. However, the 15,000 nurses were eventually rehired.
Government was given until New Year’s Eve, Monday December 31 2018, to deal with the impasse by specialist doctors or they, too, vowed to down tools.
“As senior doctors, we feel that health service units work as teams. Therefore, the absence of the juniors and middle-level doctors, and any other members of the team, critically compromises all aspect of health service delivery to patients, their communities and the public at large,” Zimbabwe Medical Doctors Association (Zima) secretary-general Sacrifice Chirisa told journalists.
Vice-president Chiwenga has accused medical staff of “playing with people’s lives”. However, there has since been somewhat of a climb-down, with negotiations set to continue on Monday.
“On Monday, we are resuming talks to find ways to resolve the issue, but we encourage them to go back to work whilst talks are ongoing,” said health and child care minister Obadiah Moyo.
By Saturday December 29 2018, the country’s biggest referral hospital, Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, had started turning away patients.
Since early December, Harare has been on cholera high alert after cases were detected in Mount Darwin. Cholera-related cases were being referred to Harare’s Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital.
Striking doctors’ long-standing grievances include a call for better working conditions, the provision of drugs in hospitals and better remuneration in US dollars.
Meanwhile, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) has called for a civil service-wide strike as early as January.
The union has invited workers to finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s offices on Monday January 7 2019 to “protest against austerity”.
“Our members are agitated... they want the government to pay their salaries in foreign currency.
“The cost of living has increased, and civil servants’ salaries have lost value three-fold in 2018. We therefore want salaries to be paid in foreign currency considering that most service providers now prefer payment for services in foreign currency,” the teachers said.