Zimbabwe’s celebrations marred by firing of striking nurses
Zimbabwe's Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday were marred by the recent firing of striking nurses by the government.
But the importance of a vibrant health services sector was laid bare for all to see when a senior government official‚ Bulawayo metropolitan affairs minister Angeline Masuku‚ collapsed while reading President Emmerson Mnangagwa's Independence Day speech.
"Please‚ can somebody come and assist me. I am feeling dizzy‚" she said before collapsing.
Fortunately‚ despite 16‚000 nurses downing tools‚ senior nurses from the rank of sister-in-charge had remained at work and the minister was attended to.
Before firing striking nurses‚ the government already had a deficit of at least 8‚000 nurses. In 2011 the government began regulating the hiring and training of nurses to contain a ballooning wage bill.
In the latest strike by nurses - the second in a space of two months - their concerns border around providing services‚ "with minimum resources and below market packages".
In February‚ government hospitals ran out of oxygen‚ forcing a major children's hospital‚ Harare Children's Hospital (HCH)‚ to suspend normal services at a time when there was an outbreak of bronchiolitis. In December‚ nurses at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) demonstrated because there was a lack of drugs at a time when more than 80% of drugs were being provided by the donor community.
The government has declared that it will not rehire fired nurses‚ instead it will hire retired ones. Those on leave have been recalled‚ and student nurses awaiting results will be absorbed into the system.
"You are requested to recruit nurses to cover up gaps created by the nurses who were summarily discharged... in the interim‚ all members who are vacation leave‚ annual leave‚ and nights off are instructed to report for duty‚" read a statement to hospital heads from the government.
But the Zimbabwe Nurses’ Association (ZINA) has since assured its members not to panic and and the civil servants’ umbrella body‚ Apex Council‚ has added its voice‚ arguing that the government's decision is irrational and unconstitutional.
As things stand‚ the country’s vice president‚ retired general Constantino Chiwenga‚ believes nurses have become political.
"The government now regards this lack of remorse as politically motivated‚" he said.
But some nurses don't even care about politics. It's all about working in a conducive environment.
"I can easily go and work in Namibia for a better wage. Actually many of my colleagues have emigrated to countries such as Australia‚ the United Kingdom and Canada. All that is needed is at least two years post basic training experience and an added specialist skill‚" said a nurse on strike.
Nurses earn a basic salary per month of $280 before allowances while the cost of living in Zimbabwe is pegged at $540 per family of five.