JUNIOR doctors at public health facilities have downed tools since Saturday citing many challenges, which include bad working conditions, low salaries and lack of basic medicines and equipment.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE/RICHARD MUPONDE/KUDZAI MUCHENJEKWA
Acting on an earlier communique to the Health Services Board and also addressed to clinical directors, the doctors said their action had been necessitated by their rapidly deteriorating working conditions.
At Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, junior doctors stayed away, just as at Harare and Chitungwiza Central hospitals.
Parirenyatwa Hospital spokesperson Lenos Dhire yesterday confirmed that some junior doctors had not turned up for work.
Harare Hospital chief executive officer Nyasha Masuka said he was yet to be apprised on the situation.
In Bulawayo, doctors heeded the call to strike, leaving patients stranded at the two major referral hospitals in the region — Mpilo Central and United Bulawayo hospitals.
The strike, which began as a go-slow at the weekend, is expected to turn into a full-blown industrial action starting today.
Mpilo Central Hospital clinical director Solwayo Ngwenya yesterday confirmed having heard of the strike, but was quick to say the situation was normal at the health institution.
“I have heard of the strike, but it was ineffective. Their colleagues in Harare were trying to woo them to join the strike, but I have checked with the hospital, it’s properly functioning. I gathered that they had a meeting last night at the hospital about some grievances, but I don’t know what they agreed on because I am on leave,” Ngwenya said.
However, a visit to Mpilo revealed that doctors were conspicuous by their absence, leaving nurses in a dilemma on how to deal with admitted patients.
UBH clinical director Narcisius Dzvanga’s mobile phone was unreachable.
A source at Mpilo, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the doctors held a meeting on Saturday night, where it was agreed they would go on strike.
“We are disgruntled by the erosion of our salaries by the hyper-inflationary environment gripping the country, which has rendered our income worthless,” the source said.
“Prices of basic commodities are increasing by each passing day and the prices of fuel have also gone up. The uncertainty in the economy has eroded our income, hence we are demanding that our employer pay us in the greenback.”
The source said poor working conditions were also riling doctors, yet money was being gobbled up by the bloated management.
“We also want them to improve our working conditions by providing protective equipment at work and pay our locum allowances. The other issue is the introduction of non-medical chief executive officers at the health institutions, which we blame for the deteriorating working conditions because they are not conversant with health issues,” the source said.
Key among their concerns was acute shortage of vital medicines and basic theatre consumables.
The doctors also said they were greatly concerned by the fact that private pharmacies were demanding foreign currency payments and rejecting medical aid.
Another disgruntlement was the long working hours, which they said left the healthcare workers overburdened and fatigued.
Most hospitals are understaffed and use obsolete equipment.
The doctors also want to be paid in foreign currency, saying the current remuneration was inadequate.
“What we are appealing for is genuine. These are genuine concerns and there is no reason to persuade anyone to understand this,” they said.
Early this year, a countrywide doctors’ strike crippled health delivery services and many patients had a torrid time trying to get medical assistance.
The junior doctors are calling on their seniors to also join the strike.
“We are still inviting our seniors to support us in this cause. We kindly appeal to all doctors to heed our call. For, it’s unity or death!”
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights acting spokesperson Norman Matara said they were rallying behind the striking doctors.
“As an association, we are rallying behind the doctors, especially on the issue of lack of medication and equipment in hospitals. Some hospitals had to suspend medical operations due to the lack of equipment and this is not good for patients,” he said.
“We urge the government to quickly address this issue. We are getting into the festive season and the government must act quickly to avoid mortality, government should not wait for things to get bad for them to respond.”
Meanwhile, at an annual general meeting held at the weekend, a vote of no confidence was passed against the old Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association members and a new National Employment Council was confirmed.
In another development, the members agreed not to meet Health minister Obadiah Moyo at the moment, saying that not all committee members were in attendance and claimed they feared that extending his invitation to everyone was meant to instil fear and divisions.