Zim health situation in distress after doctors, nurses down tools

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By Staff Reporter

A MAJOR health catastrophe is brewing in the country as government struggles to convince striking health workers to return to work.

Doctors and nurses downed tools over a week ago over poor wages and shortage of personal protective clothing.

A knee jerk decision by government to pacify them with a US$75 monthly allowance did not help matters as they rejected the offer, describing it as measly.

It has now emerged that since the strike started last week, patients in the country’s major referral hospitals, including those in maternity wards, are not being attended to, heightening the risk of losing more lives.

As of Monday this week, only the barest skeletal staff manned Parirenyatwa and Sally Mugabe Hospitals in Harare, which are Zimbabwe’s largest referral hospitals.

Expecting mothers at Parirenyatwa’s Mbuya Nehanda maternity wing said they were not being regularly attended to.

“I have been admitted here for the past three days and I have a complication, but I have only been attended to by nurses. I haven’t seen a doctor yet and it scares me,” said the expecting mother.

At the hospital’s outpatients wing, the few nurses who had reported for duty were turning away scores of patients who went unattended.

“We are overwhelmed here. I only came because my religion doesn’t permit me to strike but even so, we have had to turn many patients away and attend to only the most serious ones,” a nurse said.

Another nurse based at Sally Mugabe Hospital said, “All departments are in serious trouble.”

Many patients were also turned away as there were no nurses who are normally the first point of contact at public hospitals.

Chitungwiza nurses, who had largely ignored the call, have now joined the strike with reports that only student nurses and senior staff were now managing some of the cases.

President of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina), Enock Dongo said nothing official had been communicated yet and urged government to urgently address their concerns.

“Patients are getting stranded and the situation is worsening. They need to resolve this impasse as a matter of urgency,” he said.

Dongo had an informal meeting with the Health Services Board but it was only an update of the situation.

“It was an informal meeting where a few issues were clarified but we are still waiting for the concrete resolutions,” he said.

Dongo also said the situation was being made worse due to Covid-19 and demand for more staff to manage that area.

The industrial action has affected even district and provincial hospitals across the country with the situation likely to worsen as more health workers join in.

The country’s health workers, including nurses, radiographers, pharmacists and others last week protested against a salary cut.

A broke government immediately offered an un-negotiated 50% salary increment and a non-taxable US$75 Covid-19 allowance which the workers felt was not only paltry but also arbitrary.

Stakeholders have been making clarion calls to the government to resolve the situation.

The Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) urged government and the striking health workers to find each other to avoid further plunging the country’s health sector into distress, with patients being the major casualties especially during this time of Covid-19 outbreak.

“Under normal situations, salaries for civil servants are negotiated under the Tripartite Negotiating Forum, which comprises of employees, employers and government representatives.

“The way the increment was announced and the so-called ‘clarifications’ that followed showed that this was a knee-jerk reaction to pre-empt a protest that was pending,” said director for CWGH Itai Rusike.

Rusike said there was need for pro-active thinking by the leaders to address issues of national concern.

“CWGH sympathizes with the health workers because we truly believe that their grievances are genuine, they have been raised before and need urgent attention. It is true their salaries have been eroded by inflation rendering them unable to feed their families and even commuting to work.”

Rusike said his organisation condemned in strongest terms the arrest of some of the striking workers.

“Threats or coercion of any form will further deepen the mistrust that exists between government and the workers. We believe re-engagement and dialogue are the panacea to any dispute.