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Strike cripples health service in Zimbabwe

Doctors fired as long-standing work issues come to a head

30 December 2018 - 00:04 By RAY NDLOVU

The health sector is on life support as the month-long strike by junior and mid-level doctors shows no sign of resolution.
After this week's firing of 530 junior doctors, there are growing signs that other health practitioners will join the strike in a show of solidarity.
The government dismissed the doctors on the grounds that their strike was illegal, following a labour court ruling instructing them to return to work.
A record number of holiday season road crashes, which has increased the demand for medical treatment, has aggravated the crisis.
Acting President Constantino Chiwenga told a media briefing on Thursday that the only way the fired doctors could be reinstated was by applying to the Health Services Board (HSB).
"We do not condone defiance. The doctors engaged in an illegal strike and that is unacceptable. Those who withdrew their services chose a wrong profession, because if they are doctors, the patient is their priority," said Chiwenga.
"You do not withdraw labour in essential services. We ordered them to go back but they did not listen and the labour court ruled."
The doctors want to be paid in US dollars and have demanded improvements in their conditions of service.
Doctors who spoke to the Sunday Times this week said their working conditions at public health institutions posed a risk to patients and to themselves. They cited a lack of protective clothing and inadequate waste disposal.
Mxolisi Ngwenya, the former spokesperson of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), described the doctors' demands as modest and said many had reached breaking point after months working without medicine or equipment.
"The strike is over chronic issues, which are the shortage of medicines and medical sundries. These have been raised since 2017 and were raised again in January 2018. After that, we saw a slight improvement for about two months, but there has been nothing since then, prompting the health board to be approached in October," he said.
Ngwenya said junior doctors were the frontline staff who suffered "psychological stress" when they had to watch patients die while being unable to prescribe medicine that could save them.
Most medicines were available only at privately owned pharmacies that demand payment in US dollars, he said.
"The firing of 500 of them [junior doctors] when [Zimbabwe] produces 130 doctors annually who are trained at the six public health institutions in the country creates a crisis where the middle and senior doctors will be overworked," he said.
"Taking in foreign doctors - who have been failing the exams here in Zimbabwe, as the health guidelines are not the same as in their home countries - will have a negative impact on public health at large."
Doctors' associations said no form of recruitment would be able to fill all the vacancies in the health sector.
In a statement on Friday, consultants and senior registrars at public hospitals expressed solidarity with their counterparts and said the absence of junior and mid-level doctors "critically compromises" health-service delivery.
"The situation at public health institutions is no longer tenable. We stand with junior doctors in seeking a speedy resolution of these matters," said the statement.
"We are urging the HSB to solve this impasse within 48 hours. Consultants have been working very hard under these very difficult circumstances and will not be able to continue beyond the stated time period."
The ZHDA accused health minister Obadiah Moyo of trying to push through constitutional amendments to prevent future strikes.
"This will enable him to sleep on the job as the health sector crumbles, like he has been doing when these grievances were raised in October and he turned a deaf ear," said a statement by the ZHDA...

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