State rights body slams leaders for seeking medical help abroad

HARARE - A State rights body has uncharacteristically slammed local leaders for seeking emergency medical treatment in foreign hospitals in a damning statement expressing concern over the impasse between the government and doctors who have been on strike since March 1.

This comes after government dismally failed in its attempts to coerce striking doctors to resume work by withholding salaries and allowances.

Defiant doctors said they will not yield to the threats until government acceded to their demand for better pay and working conditions.

The festering work avoidance by the doctors has given President Emmerson Mnangagwa the biggest headache since he took power in a soft coup in November last year.

The constitutional body, Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), said it was concerned about the impasse between the government and members of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (ZHDA) and said the prolonged job action had drastically compromised health care. 

“The commission notes with concern that due to the inadequate and poor facilities in most public health institutions, the leaders within the government of Zimbabwe generally shun the services that are a product of their policies and decisions,” the Elasto Mugwadi-led State rights body said in a damning statement.

“Instead they seek treatment in private health facilities and even travel beyond Zimbabwean borders for health services.

“This practice, in our view, displays a clear lack of confidence in the public health delivery system by our leaders and compromises commitment and resoluteness in ensuring the recovery of the system.

“Further, it relegates such services to the poor who have to contend with the deteriorating health standards, which fly in the face of the rights based approach to development.”

Doctors are demanding among other things an upward review of on-call allowance, want the government to honour its word to subsidise purchase of cars and the HSB to urgently implement the agreed vehicle duty-free framework.

Parirenyatwa and Harare Central hospitals have had to suspend a number of services due to the absence of essential medical staff. The strike has spread countrywide.

The ongoing strike has caused untold suffering to desperate patients at major government hospitals and caused unfortunate loss of lives.

The rights body noted that Section 76 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has the right to access basic health care services.  The same Constitution in section 65 also protects labour rights including the right to engage in collective job action. 

ZHRC said the doctors have taken a position and are indeed exercising this right.

“In light of the above, the ZHRC implores the government of Zimbabwe through the ministry of Health and Child Care and the Health Services Board (HSB) to engage the striking personnel to ensure that their grievances are resolved without compromising the right to health, the right to life and access to health care services at Government Hospitals,” the rights body said in the statement.

“The government and the HSB are also urged to ensure that the ongoing dialogue between both parties is conducted in good faith and in the interest of all parties concerned. The fact that this problem recurs almost on an annual basis suggests that previous engagements have not addressed the root cause of the problem.”

Fifteen years after the government pledged in the Abuja Declaration to allocate at least 15 percent of its annual budget to health care by 2015, it is dismally failing to meet this goal. The 2018 $5,1 billion National Budget allocation to the Health and Child Care ministry is 7,7 percent of the total budget.

“The ZHRC recommends that the government of Zimbabwe conforms to the Abuja Declaration in which the heads of State of African Union countries pledged to set a target of allocating at least 15 percent of their annual budget to improve the health sector,” the rights body said.

“This would in no doubt go a long way in improving not only the conditions of service of health service personnel which has become an unresolved perennial issue, but also improve the general health delivery system.”

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to which the Zimbabwean government has committed include targets to achieve good health and well-being for all.

“This cannot be achieved if the current challenges bedevilling the Zimbabwean health delivery system are not addressed with the urgency and seriousness that they deserve,” the rights body said.

“The ZHRC calls on the parties involved and relevant to the current impasse to expedite engagements and ensure an immediate and lasting solution, bearing in mind the agony of those who are sick in our midst.

“The government of Zimbabwe in particular as the duty-bearer in the fulfilment and enjoyment of the right to health is encouraged to show leadership in the face of this national crisis, and ensure that the public health institutions are functional.”

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