Striking health workers have rejected Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s pleas for them to return to work, saying the government must first address their grievances.
Chiwenga, who was appointed Health and Child Care minister by President Emmerson Mnangagwa early this month, last week appealed to doctors and nurses to return to work while their grievances were being addressed.
The majority of health workers, including nurses, went on strike two months ago demanding salaries in United States dollars and the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).
They were joined by doctors weeks later, crippling services at public hospitals at a time the country is battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shingayi Nyaguse from the Zimbabwe Senior Hospital Doctors’ Association said although their members were concerned about the plight of their patients, they would not return to work until their grievances were met.
“We are glad he (Chiwenga) is concerned about the lives of patients as we are,” Nyaguse said.
“Unfortunately, none of the factors that made people unable to come to work have been addressed.
“We would love to meet him or his representatives and discuss how to resolve the immediate issues and also to discuss how the underlying problems in the sector can be addressed in the medium to long-term.”
Enoch Dongo, the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) president, said nurses would only return to work after government addressed their grievances.
“Nothing has changed in as far as our grievances are concerned,” Dongo said.
He said besides poor remuneration, nurses wanted the government to improve their working conditions and provide them with PPE.
“We still do not have adequate personal protective equipment, so we will not be pushed to go back without the proper tools to carry out our work,” Dongo said.
Most public hospitals do not have drugs and basic equipment to treat patients.
Health workers have also been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic with over 400 of them testing positive for the disease.
Meanwhile, Dongo said nurses were also frustrated that Chiwenga had not made an effort to engage them since he was appointed Health and Child Care minister.
“We just heard that the Health minister has called on us to go back to work, but he is yet to engage us,” he said. “We also need to be heard and share our side of the story.”
Nurses downed tools on June 8 citing incapacitation because of poor salaries and lack of PPE.
Senior doctors joined the strike, saying they too were unhappy with their conditions, which have been worsened by the absence of nurses in hospitals.
Itai Rusike, the director of the Community Working Group on Health, urged the authorities to urgently address the health workers’ grievances.
“We call for a speedy, fair and impartial procedure in resolving the labour dispute to avoid further loss of life,” Rusike said.
Strikes by doctors and nurses have become commonplace in Zimbabwe due to poor salaries and lack of equipment and drugs at hospitals.