Striking Zimbabwe Doctors Urged to Return to Work As State Downgrades Juniors’ Status

Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZiMA)

Five hundred striking Zimbabwean doctors, who were suspended by the Health Service Board (HSB) for engaging in a crippling industrial action early this month, have been urged to return to work at a time the government is attempting to replace them with over 200 “interns”.

According to the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the call was made Sunday by Professor Francis Chiwora, president of the Zimbabwe Medical Association comprising consultants and senior registrars, following a crucial meeting with the HSB, ministries of education and health and other stakeholders.

Professor Chiwora, whose organization gave government 48 hours last Friday to resolve the standoff between the striking doctors and the state, said they resolved in the meeting that the doctors should return to work in order to end the current impasse.

Professor Chiwora said it was agreed that the law must take its course in dealing with the striking doctors demanding payment in United States dollars, procurement of relevant equipment for use in hospitals, revival of a vehicle loan scheme and other issues.

HSB vice chairperson Auxilia Chideme-Munodawafa added that the junior doctors’ suspensions would be lifted if they agreed to return to work.

But Dr. Mthabisi Bhebhe, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association, said they won’t return to work until their grievances are met by the government.

“We are not part of this agreement that was made by the Zimbabwe Medical Association and government. There is no need to return to work as all our grievances have not been met. We are meeting government representatives tomorrow so we can map the way forward,” said Dr. Bhebhe.

The government is currently in the process of deploying 204 junior doctors who have just completed their college studies. Vice President Constantino Chiwenga announced last Friday that the government was in the process of amending junior doctors’ contracts with a view of making them interns instead of paid health workers.

In a letter to chief executive officers of state hospitals, Permanent Health secretary Retired Brigadier General Dr. Gerald Gwinji informed them that the government is deploying junior doctors as interns, who will be under the Ministry of Higher Education instead of the HSB and Ministry of Health.

Indications are that the young doctors, who have two pending examinations in medicine and won’t be paid salaries while on internship, are refusing to sign the proposed contracts that will downgrade them to higher education students.

The letter written by Gwinji reads in part, “An interim arrangement is made for the placement of interns in your respective institutions. This follows the decision mad to transfer the medical interns to the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development who are currently finalizing the relevant framework. The details of the framework will be shared in due course.

“The prospective interns have been preliminarily allocated to your institutions … And they are being advised through various channels to report for assignment from the 31st of December 2018.”

Gwinji noted that the graduates were drawn from the University of Zimbabwe, National University of Science and Technology Medical Schools and others trained in foreign universities who passed local board examinations.

“An additional list will be shared in 2019 once the supplementary examinations have been released by the Medical Schools and the number of foreign trained medical doctors passing the local board examinations is known.”

Junior doctors went on strike early this year making similar demands, which were not addressed by the government.