POOR patients are made to suffer as doctors at the country’s four biggest hospitals – Parirenyatwa, Harare Central, United Bulawayo and Mpilo – are on strike in protest over remuneration and working conditions.
The strike was started by junior doctors last Friday and was this week joined by their seniors amid fears that the health delivery system at public hospitals would soon be compromised if the industrial action is not ended soon.
The state doctors are demanding a wage increase of about US$3 000 monthly for a junior medical officer and US$4 000 for a senior medical officer who is currently earning US$170 monthly from the government and an extra US$220 stipend from the Crown Agents, a British donor.
The doctors are also demanding transport, housing and an on-call allowance and at the same time they are complaining that the extra allowance from the Crown Agents was coming in “dribs and drabs”.
Speaking to the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday, Brighton Chizhande, the president of the Hospital Doctors’ Association, said his organisation was not happy with the “flat” salary they were getting from the government.
“We want the new government to address the doctors’ salary issue as an urgent matter,” he said. “They should come up with a salary structure that is in line with the market and not a flat figure they are giving us. We also want the government to address the issue of our allowances.”
He said his members would press ahead with the strike despite pleas from Health minister Henry Madzorera this week that all government doctors should go back to work while their salaries and conditions of work were being looked into.
“It makes sense for the minister to plead with us but the government should show some seriousness on their part before he (Madzorera) can come and tell us to return to work,” Chizhande said. “The new inclusive government should have prioritised the health system from the start but we are in a situation where a lot of focus is on more minor issues than the health system which I think is of vital importance in every society. We are dealing with a very sensitive issue here, people’s lives are at risk.”
Since the formation of the inclusive government last year, the doctors had agreed to continue working despite being unhappy with the US$100 monthly allowance that was given to all civil servants.
The doctors’ salaries were then increased by Finance minister Tendai Biti in his mid-term monetary policy to US$170 while the Crown Agents chipped in with an extra US$220 monthly for the state doctors.
But as government and the state doctors’ wrangle to reach an agreement, it is the poor patient who is suffering the brunt of the strike.
When the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday visited Parirenyatwa hospital, the largest referral hospital in the country, scores of patients were sleeping in car park bays and corridors while others were being turned away or made to wait as nurses and interns struggled to cope.
One nurse who spoke on condition of anonymity said they had been instructed to attend to emergency cases only while other patients were told to find an “alternative way” of getting medical assistance from private hospitals and pharmacies.
“The situation was overwhelming in the last few days and we were struggling to cope. But the numbers of patients at the outpatient department have markedly gone down because we were instructed to attend to emergency cases only,” the nurse said.
Most of the patients interviewed said they could not afford private hospitals as they were “too expensive”.