HARARE - The strike by doctors and nurses is beginning to bite, leaving the lives of thousands of poverty-stricken Zimbabweans in the hands of God as many health workers refuse to pitch up for work following the government’s continued failure to pay them their December salaries.
Harare Central Hospital was among the hardest-hit public health institutions yesterday, with a Daily News on Sunday crew witnessing numerous patients being turned away and told to return for treatment tomorrow — the day that the broke government has promised to honour its salaries obligation.
The patients who appeared to bear the brunt of the strike in Harare were those who looked relatively well, who were being turned away while those who appeared seriously ill were the ones who were being attended to by the few medical personnel on duty.
Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) spokesperson Francis Rwodzi said so serious was the situation that one senior medical officer he had spoken to had revealed that he had attended to at least 10 Caesarean operations yesterday alone.
When the Daily News on Sunday visited Parirenyatwa Hospital, waiting patients in the casualty section also painted a gloomy picture apparently caused by a serious shortage of staff.
Although the nurses that were at work there downplayed the strike, patients were openly complaining about having to wait a long time in queues.
Permanent secretary in the ministry of Health and Child Care Gerald Gwinji had last Tuesday ordered all public hospitals to provide support to health workers in critical areas by providing transport or bus fare for them.
But health workers scornfully rejected the government’s $1-a-day transport allowance, saying it was an insult.
Rwodzi said the situation would not get any better if the government did not honour its promise to pay outstanding salaries tomorrow.
“At Waterfalls Clinic, the nurses have been telling patients to come back on January 5 after they get paid. If nothing happens, then, it means people will continue to be referred to further dates.
“The situation is getting dire. The senior medical doctors are being swarmed with work.
“At the main hospitals, you find the majority of nurses and doctors are not attending to patients. It’s only the senior medical officers that are attending to patients. Our stance remains one of no salaries no bonuses and no free doctors,” Rwodzi said.
He said while they acknowledged that their strike would have devastating effects on poor Zimbabweans, they had been forced by circumstances to embark on the strike to jerk the government into action.
“The reason why doctors have decided to embark on this industrial action is that we feel the government has money but suffers from poor prioritisation and corruption.
“The Health Services Board has about 118 people working there and you find the human resources manager for the health services board is getting retention allowances of $1 500 while for doctors the starting salaries don’t even get to $1 000.
“Do we need to splash this kind of money on a board that we have no need for? The president must fire (Health minister David) Parirenyatwa and Gwinji for incompetence,” Rwodzi said.
In the meantime, fed-up civil servants have also warned the government against continuing to give them empty bonus promises, and are demanding that their employer gives them the exact dates when their 13th cheques will be paid.