Zimbabwe doctors halt emergency treatment after being told 'government does not print US dollars'

04 January 2019 - 07:54
By James Thompson
Doctors in Zimbabwe say it is with a
Image: iStock Doctors in Zimbabwe say it is with a "heavy heart" that they have stopped attending to emergencies.

Doctors have effectively stopped attending to emergency cases in Zimbabwe.

After a meeting between hospital medical officers, junior registrars [engaged in post-graduate training] and senior registrars [specialist doctors] on January 3 2019, the remaining medical practitioners holding fort downed tools.

“It is with a heavy heart that we agreed to stop attending to emergencies. We have been diligently attending to emergencies hoping that the current impasse would be resolved,” read a statement from the doctors.

The statement emanated from the second biggest referral hospital in the country, United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH), where gynaecology, obstetric, surgical and ophthalmology specialists signed off.

On January 2 2019, President Emmerson Mnangagwa called off his annual leave to engage the striking doctors. Previously, his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, issued a stern warning that they should not dare demonstrate at their work stations.

“Government will not allow any demonstrations at medical facilities whose purpose is to treat patients and ensure their full recovery,” he said, adding that the key demand of the doctors would not be met.

“For the avoidance of doubt, government will not remunerate any of its workforce in US dollars. Government does not print US dollars,” said Chiwenga.

So far, the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which brings together military, police and state intelligence bosses, has met over the doctors’ strike.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba told journalists that the strike had become a state security threat that demanded extraordinary solutions.

“Government is treating this matter as a serious one because it involves lives. Because it is serious, we are set to see extraordinary decisions being taken to put an end to this issue once and for all,” he said.

By midday on January 3 2019, at UBH in Bulawayo, the causality ward was being manned by a nurse and half a dozen students. One of the students revealed that no doctor had been to the ward in more than 24 hours.

Some patients sat waiting, hoping for assistance.

“I came here at 8am and up to now (3pm) the doctor who was said to be on call has not arrived. The nurses can’t do much beyond taking temperature and other details because the doctor is the one who gives prescriptions after seeing a patient,” said Sabelo Ncube.

On December 31 2018, the same institution admitted 37 patients from a bus accident, five of whom were critical. Specialist doctors attended to the patients.

“What they are doing now is allowing people to die. Ordinary civilians like us should not suffer a double tragedy. I am a trained teacher and not happy with the way we are being remunerated by the same government. But now I can die because a doctor is angry at the same oppressor I am fed up with. The economic situation has turned us against each other. It’s sad,” said another patient.

Government claims to have met 80 percent of the doctors’ demands, warranting their return to work while negotiations are under way. However, doctors say that is not true.

“The government came to negotiate and gave their positions, which we asked them to refine and reconsider. We are therefore awaiting the official feedback,” said the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association.