The crippling strike by doctors entered its seventh day yesterday with no solution in sight as the government continues to take a lethargic approach to the crisis.
Doctors downed tools last Saturday demanding to be paid in foreign currency in response to the devaluation of the local currency against the United States dollar on the parallel market.
Since the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe instructed banks in September to separate foreign currency-dominated accounts from those based on the real-time gross settlement (RTGS), prices of most goods and services have been skyrocketing beyond the reach of many.
The devaluation of the surrogate bond note on the parallel market has exposed the fallacy of government’s position that the local currency is at par with the US dollar.
A major economic crisis has beset the country in the last three months characterised by severe shortages of fuel and medicines as a result of government’s unrealistic position on the currency issue.
The health sector is the hardest hit as the government is unable to avail enough foreign currency for the importation of medicines. the lack of drugs at public hospitals is one of the reasons the doctors cited for their industrial action.
However, besides the demands for foreign currency-based salaries, the doctors’ grievances have remained the same over the past few years, which largely shows the government’s lack of commitment to bringing normalcy to the health sector.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government early this year made commitments to pay the doctors respectable salaries and also to honour previous promises to give them certain incentives when they embarked on another major strike.
The latest industrial action shows that those commitments have not been met and this has created a trust deficit in the relationship between the government and its employees.
Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo last week misled the nation when he claimed the strike had been called off, but the lie was immediately exposed by the doctors who revealed that in fact negotiations had stalled.
To show the lack of urgency in resolving the stalemate, the government pushed the next round of negotiations with the doctors to this week.
In the meantime, public hospitals have suspended major operations and this has exposed patients to serious risk as the majority of the population cannot afford fees charged by private health providers.
The longer the strike takes, the more people will be exposed to avoidable deaths. It is high time Moyo rolled up his sleeves to come up with a workable solution to the crisis in the health sector by constructively engaging the striking doctors.