Doctors’ strike: Lives on ropes as lies, arrogance blot hope

Timothy Kafiramberi (not his real name) is visibly desperate and scared as he carries his ailing son who cannot walk due to an unexplained sickness. He has been moving from one room to another along the crowded corridors at the outpatients department of Parirenyatwa Hospital.

Timothy Kafiramberi (not his real name) is visibly desperate and scared as he carries his ailing son who cannot walk due to an unexplained sickness. He has been moving from one room to another along the crowded corridors at the outpatients department of Parirenyatwa Hospital.

News in depth BY VANESSA GONYE

He has been doing this for over two hours and despite having been told that there were no doctors to attend to his son, Kafiramberi cannot gather the courage to leave the hospital. He has no other option because he does not have the US dollars that private hospitals are asking for.

No doctors have been available at government hospitals since they downed tools over a month ago asking for salaries in US dollars and improved working conditions, among other demands. Government has refused to give in to their major demands resulting in hundreds of people falling into Kafiramberi’s predicament.

Kafiramberi says he has been visiting the same hospital since mid-December hoping to find a changed situation, but nothing has changed and meanwhile his son’s condition has continued to deteriorate.

“My son started presenting high temperatures and serious loss of appetite sometime in the middle of December,” he said.

“We came with him to this hospital for treatment, but we were told there were no doctors to diagnose his illness. We were advised to go and buy him painkillers elsewhere since the hospital pharmacy did not have any.”

He managed to get the painkillers but after a week of constant dosage with the painkillers, the little boy’s condition worsened to a point he could not walk.

For Kafiramberi, Christmas Day passed by unnoticed, just as did New Year’s Day. The family had spent every little cent he earns as a security guard to pay for services at several clinics and traditional healers he visited each time his son got worse. Some of the money was spent on huge transport costs to and from Parirenyatwa Hospital.

“This visit is one of many visits I have made here. We started coming here when my son could walk, but now we have to carry him around. He cannot walk anymore,” he said.

While he was talking to The Standard news crew, the only doctor manning the casualty department passed by and told Kafiramberi that he had to look for private doctors to help with his son’s situation.

“Time is not on your side,” the doctor said. “There are no doctors here to help with your situation at the moment.” The doctor is known at the hospital for working extra hours even after his colleagues had downed tools. He had already told Kafiramberi several days before that his son needed specialist attention.

The look on Kafiramberi’s face as the doctor left the waiting area told of defeat and pain. He had tried all he could to get his son treated but it had all been in vain.

“I don’t know what to do now. Maybe we just have to watch and see what happens from now,” a dejected Kafiramberi said.

There are many in Kafiramberi’s hopeless situation. The government has resorted to several moves, including dismissing the striking doctors and bringing military personnel, but that has not helped the situation. Doctors insist on having their salaries paid in US dollars because the bond notes have lost value and another of their demands is to have hospitals and other health centres adequately stocked with medicines and equipment.

Another parent, an elderly man, Simon Katswe, sits in the hospital waiting area, with a disturbed look on his face.

It has been two weeks since his son was admitted at Parirenyatwa Hospital. Nothing has been done to help him because there are some tests that need to be done on him before treatment can commence, but the tests require an upfront payment in US dollars before results can be availed.

Katswe clearly does not understand the whole system and relies on what he was told that nothing can be done unless he brings the results from a private lab in town.

Unlike Kafiramberi who is in some form of employment, he cannot afford the required US$20 to pay for the tests. Katswe said he had been waiting at the hospital for four days to get assistance from a relative.

His son’s life depends on that, but clearly, there is little hope because besides the inability to get the tests done, there are no doctors to do the diagnosis even if the test results were to be presented.

“I was told by my nephew that I would receive a message to go collect the results of the tests once he had paid. But it’s been days without a word from him,” Katswe said.

“I will have to wait until the payment has been made. I don’t have anywhere else to get the money.”

In their first meeting with government, the doctors blamed Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo for the continuation of the industrial action.

“It is shocking that the Health minister dwells on the legality of the job action than solutions as if he is reading from his predecessor’s script. No responsible and accountable minister or government would turn a blind eye to a crisis of this magnitude or wish it away,” the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (ZHDA) said in a statement.

On Christmas eve, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga ordered the suspension of the 530 striking junior doctors and radiographers, a move which saw the defiant medical practitioners strengthening their resolve not to go back to work.

They were subsequently called back to work with orders of disciplinary hearings to be conducted by the Health Services Board, which they have snubbed.

On Friday the doctors met First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa at State House in a bid to find a solution. The First Lady came out of the meeting claiming that she had managed to get the doctors back to work, but the doctors refuted the claims saying they had not reached any agreement and that they were continuing with their job action.

“The industrial action is ongoing even though our representatives met the First Lady today (Friday). She has promised to take our issues to the highest office, but we are waiting for the final outcome. Dialogue does not end on promises, there has to be deliverance of the terms agreed upon,” said ZHDA secretary-general Mthabisi Bhebhe.

The only hope for the thousands like Kafiramberi and Katswe lies in the outcome of the negotiations between government and the striking doctors. So far agreement appears elusive as government refuses to budge on US dollar salary payment and insists on taking disciplinary action against the striking doctors.