Health crisis looms as nurses strike

HARARE - Another crisis is looming at State hospitals, after fed up nurses gave notice to the government that they would soon embark on a crippling strike — as they press for improved working conditions and the dismissal of the Health Services Board (HSB) secretariat, which they accuse of failing to act on their grievances.

This comes as chaos continues to ravage public hospitals which have been hit by shortages of drugs and key personnel, as well as new outbreaks of communicable diseases such as cholera, malaria and typhoid.

“We feel the HSB does not understand us and how we operate. We have been raising our grievances since 2010 and up to now, 11 years later, they have not yet addressed those issues.

“The purpose of the HSB is to address the conditions of service for health workers, but this is not happening,” Zimbabwe Nurses Association secretary general, Enock Dongo, told the Daily News yesterday.

He said all nurses, regardless of qualifications and experience, were being classified under the lowest grade.

“Even when you have been working as a nurse for 10 years, and when you should be considered to be a senior, you get the lowest salary of about $285. It’s all because your grade doesn’t change. You remain grade D1, instead of maybe D3.

“Someone can also have three or four diplomas on top of a nursing degree and still be in that low grade. We have specialities in midwifery, intensive care and physiotherapy, but all that is not being recognised.

“We want the HSB secretariat to be removed ... and we will not stop demonstrating until they are removed. They are non-medical people and they don’t even know how we operate as health workers,” Dongo said.

“When we discuss our issues with the board, they appear to understand, but the problem comes with implementation … that’s where the problem is. We cannot have the lives and professions of over 35 000 people in disarray because of a few people, and we are saying we are fed up,” he added.

Public hospitals are struggling under the weight of a myriad other problems, including the shortage of drugs and continued under-funding by the government.

Despite the humongous problems bedevilling the public health sector, the misfiring Zanu PF government has continued to overlook its urgent needs, as demonstrated by the allocation of a measly budget to hospitals this year.

In his budget presentation in December, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa reduced the vote for health from $331 million to a disappointing $282 million — a figure that falls way short of meeting the big demands of the public health sector.

This has seen Zimbabwe’s public health sector lurching from one crisis to the other over the past two decades, as the country’s stone-broke government struggles to pay workers and stock hospitals.

Early this year, health services across the country were crippled when doctors and nurses staged a national strike, pressing for improved working conditions.

In 2016, major referral hospitals also had to suspend many services as a result of the shortage of drugs, including painkillers — exposing how much things have fallen apart in the country since the early 2000s.

United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) and Harare Central Hospital were among the major health facilities that had to suspend normal services as a result of drug shortages, including pethidine — a synthetic compound used as a painkiller, especially for women in labour and during caesarean operations.

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