By Robert Tapfumaneyi
ZIMBABWE Senior Hospital Doctors (ZSHDA) members downed tools Thursday after the acting Health Ministry secretary said it would be insane for government to pay their salaries in foreign currency.
The industrial action has plunged the whole public health sector into a dark hole as nurses and junior doctors were already on strike demanding better salaries and working conditions.
The work stoppage by the public health workers also comes when Covid-19 infections and related deaths in Zimbabwe have steeply increased over the past two weeks with no tangible measures put in place by the government to flatten the curve.
On Monday this week, seven babies from eight deliveries at Harare Central Hospital were stillborn after urgent treatment was delayed due to staff issues.
It was reported the deaths were just “the tip of the iceberg”.
Zimbabwe’s critical health staff is demanding wage payment in US dollars insisting Zimbabwe dollar salaries were losing value due to ever rising prices of goods and services in the country.
However, acting secretary for health Gibson Mhlanga, in response to the doctors’ demands, chose to give the doctors a winding ideological lecture on why the government cannot pay salaries in foreign currency.
“Full US dollarisation of the economy is a tried, tested and failed concept,” Mhlanga wrote.
“By February 2018, the country was dry of the US dollars with citizens sleeping at banks to withdraw their deposits to no avail.
“Foreigners also descended on Zimbabwe in search of the easily accessible US dollars in addition to locals also externalising their US dollar reserves.
“There is absolutely nothing to stop that from happening again. Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.”
Mhlanga went on; “We have to be innovative and explore other ways of resolving these challenges. The US dollar is American currency printed by the Federal Reserve and is not printed for free for other countries.
“Other countries can only access the USD through international trade of goods and services. The USD reserves generated by the Zimbabwean economy are not adequate to sustain import obligations such as fuel, food because of droughts and natural disasters, electrical power following droughts resulting in reduced generation, medicines, and medical products aggravated by Covid-19, industrial and agricultural machinery just to mention a few.
“Diverting the limited US forex to paying salaries is suicidal for the economy and social services provision. Printing the ZWL$ without consideration to the economic fundamentals is inflationary and Zimbabweans are experiencing the horrors of a second wave of hyperinflation.”
The incapacitated senior doctors had given the government a 14-day ultimatum to address their grievances or they would withdraw their services. The ultimatum period lapsed on Tuesday.
In response to Mhlanga’s diatribe, the ZSHDA said they were disappointed.
“It was our hope that there would be some attempt by the government to meet the request made by doctors which we believe to be valid and necessary in enabling reasonable service delivery.
“We feel quite disappointed that all we got is really an explanation of how we got where we are and how it is going to remain the same.
“Since the status quo is going to persist, we regret to advise that our members will now proceed with the stoppage until it is safe and fair to return to our posts. We do hope that you will consider your position in the interest of our patients and your workforce,” the senior doctors said.