Zimbabwe: Zim Health Sector On the Brink As Doctors Down Tools

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Doctors at public hospitals across in Zimbabwe have downed their stethoscopes, vowing not to return to work unless their on-call allowances as well as other working conditions are improved.

Patients were Tuesday being turned away at most public hospitals across the country because of the job action.

Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), a union representing over 1,000 medical practitioners, said the conditions under which doctors are operate are "senseless" such that working would be a waste of time.

"The main issue we have raised currently is that it does not make sense for us to continue working in hospitals that do not have any drugs or sufficient equipment," said Mxolisi Ngwenya, ZHDA spokesman.

It is the first major labour unrest since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power on the back of a bloodless military coup that forced former President Robert Mugabe into resignation in November last year.

First to go on strike were junior doctors on March 1st and last week senior doctors joined in leaving the national health delivery system on the brink.

Government is accused of reneging on an agreement to increase on-call allowances to $10 an hour from the current $1.50, made four years ago according to Ngwenya.

He said junior doctors, still earn a basic monthly salary of $329 before allowances but have been clamouring for duty free vehicles without success as an incentive.

According to Reuters news agency, in neighbouring South Africa doctors on internship earned the equivalent of $2,834 as of last year.

This has resulted in massive brain drain in Zimbabwe into South Africa leaving the public health system stretched to the limit and susceptible to the most basic unrest.

With meetings between doctors' representatives scheduled for Thursday, Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said the government was committed to resolving the impasse urging the striking medical practitioners to returns to their posts to save lives.

Meanwhile, at Parirenyatwa hospital, the largest public hospital in the capital, staff was employing a screening system in which the most serious cases such as accidents were being treated while other people were turned away.

At Harare hospital, patients reported being either turned away or left in corridors without assistance.

Striking doctors are demanding better working conditions, and increases in their salaries and allowances.

"There are no doctors, yet they made us pay our money," said Rufaro Zimhute, the mother of a sick child.

"Since the morning, I have been waiting. Look, my daughter is sick."

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