Government, junior doctors’ meeting fails to end strike deadlock

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By Leopold Munhende

JUNIOR doctors are set to continue with their strike action after negotiations between their representative body and government Thursday ended in a deadlock.

Speaking after a crunch meeting with Health Minister Obadiah Moyo, Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) secretary general Mthabisi Bhebhe maintained that they could only guarantee an end to their now two-week long strike if they were strong government assurances their grievances will be addressed.

“What is of particular importance is that these discussions should be followed by evidence on the ground and evidence on the ground is the availability of medicines and medical and sanitary sundries.

“The issues of doctors’ welfare are still pertinent…senior doctors have already highlighted their intent to join the industrial action. That is why we are saying it is important for us to go and consult our constituency,” said a defiant Bhebhe who went on to demand documentation of government pay assurances.

After a tough closed door meeting, some members of the Apex Council and Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZiMA) could be heard trying to pursuade Bhebhe and his president Elias Muzoremba to call off the crippling industrial action.

Junior doctors are demanding to be paid their wages in US dollars, constant availability of drugs and medicinal sundries and loans to purchase vehicles.

However, addressing a post-cabinet briefing Tuesday, Minister Moyo Tuesday said US dollar demands by the country’s critical health staff were “awkward” in an economy that is experiencing acute US dollar shortages, adding that the only available forex could be best channelled towards procuring medicine.

He however said government was on course to addressing issues such as the availability of fuel, drugs and loans for purchase of vehicles.

Moyo further revealed that drugs worth $25 million had already been purchased and Nat-Pharm had been directed to distribute all drugs at its disposal for use in public hospitals as soon as possible.

On his part, ZiMA secretary general Sacrifice Chirisa said they had decided to abandon their demands for US dollar wages after considering the current economic crisis.

“We have negotiated starting from the US dollar demands which we have removed; we looked at the initial demands by junior doctors that they wanted their salary pegged in US dollars, the whole of it but obviously through the negotiations, discussions and insights which we have made with our parent ministry, it was very clear that given our economic situation in the country that is not practical,” he said.

Addressing the media on Wednesday, Bhebhe said they believed government had the capacity to address all their grievances and were not prepared to call their strike off until all their grievances were addressed.

The meeting was also attended by the Apex Council which was negotiating on behalf of other members of government’s health workforce.

Radiographers have also joined doctors strike with indications that nurses and others in the health sector could soon join in.