HARARE – Zimbabwe’s public hospitals face a complete shutdown after specialist senior doctors on Tuesday announced that they would stop attending to emergencies in solidarity with over 400 doctors sacked for going on strike demanding better pay.
The senior doctors were only attending to emergencies after a strike by over 1,500 junior doctors which began on September 3.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA) said its members met a day earlier to deliberate “on the myriad of challenges currently befalling the medical fraternity.”
“We have noted with grave concern the wanton dismissal of over 435 doctors, the continued summoning of doctors for disciplinary hearings and the withholding of the paltry salaries for the doctors,” the union said.
The SHDA said it had “continued to engage the employer in dialogue whilst the hostilities on its members were continuing unabated.”
It said the doctors who were responding to emergencies at public hospitals were frustrated by “poor outcomes on the patients being attended to”, owing to nurses now working a three-day week and lack of the full complement of medical teams.
The decision to fire doctors “had not capacitated either the hospitals themselves or the human resource base,” the SHDA said.
“We regret to inform you that the SHDA has agreed with its members who had remained behind offering emergency services to the hospitals: that we are no longer able to offer any emergency services as from 2PM on November 26, 2019, until all the fired doctors are reinstated and there is adequate redressal of their incapacities,” the SHDA said in a letter to the clinical director of the Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals – the biggest referral hospital in the country.
Early this month, the government began firing junior and middle level doctors who have been on strike since September 3 demanding improved pay to cushion them from soaring inflation.
The doctors want their pay indexed to the United States dollar to stop their earnings being eroded by triple-digit inflation.
The doctors defied a court ruling last month that their action was illegal and they should return to work. Patients are being turned away from hospitals because there are no doctors to treat them, although some specialist doctors have been responding to emergencies.
The government said last month it had doubled doctors’ salaries. They said that was inadequate, as it would only increase their monthly salary to about 2,000 Zimbabwe dollars or US$130.
Zimbabweans are bearing the brunt of the worst economic downturn in a decade, with shortages of foreign currency, fuel, electricity and medicines.
The crisis has been worsened by a drought that has left more than half of the population in need of food aid and forced the government to scramble for scarce dollars to import grain.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has asked for patience while his government tries to fix the economy. But hope has dimmed that he can end years of economic troubles that were a hallmark of the rule of the late Robert Mugabe, who was ousted in an army coup two years ago.
The government is currently facing threats of more walkouts from over 130,000 teachers and other public sector workers.
The teachers’ unions have already said their members will work a two-day week and stop wearing formal clothes to the classroom as teachers are too poor to buy shoes, shirts and ties.