Zimbabwe doctors fail to win dollar demands
The festive season was a trying time for nurses as road accidents spiked and they were left holding the fort while doctors were on strike, demanding to be paid in US dollars.
Economic trials facing Zimbabwe include fuel shortages and inflation - which officially was 31% in November, though independent estimates put it at over 100% in real terms.
Throughout the six weeks of the doctors' strike, which was called off on Thursday, nurses at public health facilities were reporting for work, with many also taking up locum jobs in private hospitals and surgeries where they are paid by the hour.
Official records indicate that 111 people died and 664 were injured in accidents between December 15 and December 30.
A sister in charge at a referral hospital in Bulawayo, who has over 35 years of experience, said she sympathised with the doctors' grievances, but nurses had borne the brunt of the strike.
"We are the most trusted health professionals because we are caregivers and teachers [for student nurses], and were with patients throughout the strike," she said.
Nurses last year embarked on a strike to press for salary increases and an improvement in their working conditions.
"In March last year, we went on industrial action and government resolved to fire all striking nurses. We were not moved because we knew no-one could plug a 15,000 or so workforce gap. Something good came out of it because more nurses got jobs," she added.
She accused the government of arrogance in dealing with doctors, because it knew that nurses would step in and save the health sector from total collapse.
The Apex Council, an umbrella body of public servants unions, on Thursday turned down a 10% salary hike offered by the government.
The doctors gained some concessions, including a government promise to provide medicines and surgical sundries.
But the government refused to pay them in dollars.
The association said in a statement that inadequate pay and the fuel shortage meant some members might not be able to get to work and provide "quality health services" to patients.
"That being said, our members have begrudgingly resumed work with immediate effect as dialogue continues," the statement said.
Nurses are in the enviable position of receiving monthly incentives in hard currency from donor agency Crown Agents, an international development company headquartered in the UK.
"We get about $50 to $90 depending on one's grade. For rural hospitals they received around $1,500 per quarter for procurement of medication," said a nurse at a rural outpost.
Crown Agents' main focus is to help governments around the world reduce poverty and improve health conditions.
Muchaneta Mwonzora, director for Crown Agents in Zimbabwe, said the organisation "merely facilitated resources to help the health sector in Zimbabwe".
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association said the doctors' strike was a reminder to authorities that the health sector was in need of urgent intervention.
"It should not take 40 days with doctors on strike for the ministry of health & child care to act and restore normal service delivery in government health institutions."