Candid Comment..Faith zaba
CITING incapacitation, senior doctors at public health institutions yesterday joined their junior counterparts, who have been protesting for over a month, dealing a mighty blow on the country’s collapsing public health care system.
The doctors’ strike is the second in 10 months over what senior doctors described as “appalling and disgraceful” conditions of services.
The senior doctors, like their junior counterparts, have complained about poor salaries of less than US$200 a month, as well as lack of adequate or working equipment to do their jobs. Junior doctors are protesting against low salaries of just above US$100.
According to the junior doctors, their contracts, signed before the abolition of the US dollar and the reintroduction of the Zimbabwe dollar, are denominated in US dollars and they want government, which is paying them in the local currency, to calculate their salaries based on the prevailing interbank rate. Senior doctors said yesterday they were overloaded with work due to the ongoing strike by their juniors.
As the stand-off between government and the doctors escalates, major hospitals such as Harare Central and Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals are turning away desperate patients, with reports of an increase in the number of preventable deaths as a result. Patients needing surgery are being told to return to the hospitals when the strike ends.
This is happening at a time when government is planning to splurge millions of dollars on luxury cars on ministers and legislators when hospitals are depleted of basic medicine such as painkillers, glucometers, blood pressure monitors, nebuliser machines, gloves and thermometers.
This just reflects badly on government’s lack of priorities. Undoubtedly, Mugabe decimated the country’s health delivery system, but disgruntled citizens expect reconstruction.
Urgently dealing with the doctors’ demands and ensuring that state health institutions cease to be death traps is what the government needs to do. The strike is catastrophic and has paralysed operations at the state-run health institutions. It is the patients that bear the brunt of the deadlock between the doctors and their employer.
Millions of Zimbabweans are already grappling with high costs of life-saving medications, putting at high risk the lives of millions of people.
Chronic patients are having to fork out as much as ZW$1 700 for some high blood pressure tablets and others have monthly medical bills as high as ZW$3 700, depending on the parallel market rates.
Ordinary Zimbabweans being turned away from the public institutions cannot afford private health care, where consultation fees for specialist services can cost up to ZW$1 700.
What is worrying is that doctors have been striking almost every year for more than a decade without their grievances being addressed.
Government needs to find a lasting solution and unless it intervenes as a matter of urgency, more lives will continue to be lost unnecessarily.