Hundreds of patients endured long hours waiting in casualty units at Zimbabwe’s state hospitals Saturday due to a crippling strike by doctors seeker higher allowances and better work conditions.
Zimbabwe had one of Africa’s best healthcare systems but a brain drain following a plunge into economic crisis and hyper-inflation has wreaked all-round havoc, including on the medical sector.
“There are practically no doctors at most hospitals,” Edgar Munatsi, president of the Hospital Doctors’ Association told AFP.
“It’s a sad situation but unfortunately there has been little movement on the part of the government to try to address our grievances.”
The doctors are demanding that call allowances be raised to a minimum of $10 per hour up from the current $1.20, that government guarantees jobs for junior doctors after internship or allow junior doctors who can’t find jobs to start private practice, Munatsi said.
They also want permission to import cars duty-free.
Munatsi said his association comprises mostly junior doctors but their senior counterparts were joining the job boycott.
An AFP correspondent saw scores of patients, some visibly in pain waiting in corridors and the grounds of Parirenyatwa, Zimbabwe’s main state hospital, after being told there were few doctors.
“I came here early this morning hoping to be seen by a doctor but I have been told there is no one to assist,” said Salima Musambi, a 32-year-old pregnant woman as she made her way to try and get a lift home.
Parirenyatwa Hospital on Friday announced it was “closing the paediatric casualty immediately in line with contingency plans.”
At United Bulawayo and Mpilo hospitals in the second city Bulawayo only senior doctors were attending to patients.
“The junior doctors have been on strike since Wednesday and this puts huge pressure on the available senior doctors who are fewer,” a member of staff at United Bulawayo Hospitals told AFP asking not to be named.
“The senior doctors are likely to join the strike on Monday.”
No official from the health ministry was available for comment.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change deplored the government’s failure to address the doctors’ grievances.
“At a time President Robert Mugabe and members of his inner circle travel to Singapore, India and other such faraway places seeking their personal medical treatment, ZANU-PF regime shows complete disregard for the plight of our striking doctors,” the party said in a statement.
Zimbabwe’s economy has been on a downturn for over a decade and in recent months the country has experienced cash shortages with some depositors sleeping at bank entrances to be early for the queues the following morning.
The government has been battling to pay civil servants and has resorted to staggering pay dates as it waits for cash to trickle into its coffers.