’90 percent of doctors on strike’

Unless government acts today, a crisis may be brewing in the country’s health sector with doctors insisting that they are on a strike that is intensifying with every passing hour.

’90 percent of doctors on strike’

More than five provincial hospitals and over 20 district hospitals are affected by the strike which began with only junior doctors on the first of March but has since roped in middle and senior doctors.

Dozens of United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) doctors yesterday took to the streets in Bulawayo protesting over conditions of employment.

“The strike entered its 14th day (yesterday) and although it started with junior doctors, senior doctors joined around the seventh day and the strike is intensifying because government is not treating this demonstration with the urgency it deserves,” said Dr Mxolisi Ngwenya, the spokesperson and vice president of Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA).

H-Metro sent teams to the country’s two major hospitals and what they saw was a situation that has not deteriorated into a crisis and can still be salvaged.

Dr Ngwenya claims the absence of disaster is due to the efforts of the most senior doctors who fall in the bracket of consultants and only ZHDA can call off the strike.

“Only consultants are still working in those hospitals. The rest: like registrars, senior housing residents, junior housing residents and medical officers are on strike and the situation is deteriorating fast.

“This was never our intention as government has had four years to deal with these issues but nothing has been done. As a result, over 90 percent of doctors are on strike.

“The government’s lack of urgency is appalling as we sent them a petition on the 23rd of January and until now our concerns have not been addressed. After their initial response, we gave them a 21-day ultimatum on the 5th of February and they did nothing culminating in the strike which began on March 1,” he said.

Chief among the concerns is the availability of medication and resources for patients and improved working conditions for doctors,

“We want clearly defined working hours and they must be well remunerated. We go on call for a meagre $1.50 an hour and we do that beyond the stipulated 72 hours per month and both the payment and the hours spent on call are unfair.

“They put a cap of 72 hours per month but on average we spend between 240-360 hours per month on call. Government once promised to pay us US$10 per hour up from 75 cents and that has still not been done, four years later. Even if we are to be working 360 hours and be paid for 72 hours, it would be better if the amount was US$10 per hour,” said Dr Ngwenya.

He also bemoaned lack of transport for doctors and said government should assist them with vehicles or enable them to get cars duty free.

“We are ready to import vehicles with our own money and all we ask for is for the cars to come in duty free but again these requests have been ignored. The health services board and the minister of health (Dr David Parirenyatwa) must be put to task because these are the same people that were there four years ago when we started these deliberations.

“We met with them again on the 6th of March and they said they need nine days to respond, even though doctors were already on strike. They have no sense of urgency whatsoever.”

The nine days government gave itself to respond end today and one wonders if an agreement will be reached.

Calls to Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Of Health, Dr Gerald Gwinji, for government’s position on the matter went unanswered yesterday.

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