Zimbabwe: Doctors Trickle Back to Work

President Emmerson Mnangagwa (file photo).
4 December 2019

At least 10 percent of junior doctors and almost half of Harare municipal nurses have returned to work, with the Government ready to consider extenuating circumstances for doctors reporting to work after the moratorium extended by President Mnangagwa expired.

Most of the remaining Harare nurses are ready to resume duty once November salaries are paid.

At least 46 junior doctors, out of the 448 who have been striking for the past three months, returned to work under the 48-hour moratorium extended by President Mnangagwa after a meeting with Catholic bishops last week, allowing dismissed doctors to resume duty without reapplying for their posts.

Government sources last night said Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals had 17 junior doctors back at work, Chitungwiza Central Hospital 12, Sally Mugabe Hospital (formerly Harare Central Hospital) eight, United Bulawayo Hospitals four, Mpilo Central Hospital five, and Mutare General Hospital one.

This total of 47 shows that one extra doctor was accepted back at work after the figure showing 46 had returned to work was compiled.

Fielding questions from journalists during a Post-Cabinet briefing at Munhumutapa Building yesterday, Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Obadiah Moyo, said Government remained committed to dialogue with the doctors, as long as they showed commitment by reporting for duty.

"Forty-six doctors have since heeded the 48-hour moratorium issued by President Mnangagwa for them to report for duty," he said.

"They are no longer dismissed. They are now reinstated and should present themselves to their places of work where they will sign assumption of duty forms.

"The signing of assumption of duty forms will also help in having their salaries reinstated by the Salaries Services Bureau (SSB). So far, 402 doctors remain fired and there will not be an extension of the moratorium. Cabinet does not want to see patients suffering, and people continuing to die. Negotiations for better working conditions will continue with those at work.

"Yes, there can be extenuating circumstances on why some failed to report for duty and those cases will be looked at separately."

Dr Moyo praised senior doctors and those working at mission hospitals countrywide for their dedication to duty.

"We are grateful to the work being done by some senior doctors and those working at mission hospitals," he said.

"Their dedication to duty has seen some lives being saved.

"We have cases of senior doctors who were only invited for hearings by the Health Services Board. They were not fired and I want to reiterate that Government is committed to having the doctors back at work.

"We are continuously availing the basic medicine and other equipment they need for them to effectively discharge their duties. Tenders for surgical equipment and medicine were floated and we are in the process of acquiring the equipment."

Dr Moyo said his ministry was committed to ensuring that the doctors led cosy lifestyles that justified the long hours they spent at work.

"We are also working on the issue of their transport," he said. "Fuel will also be availed to them as there are storage facilities at most central hospitals. A fuel budget is already being worked on.

"Government is in the process of rolling out accommodation facilities. There will be three and four-storey blocks of flats constructed at all referral hospitals across the country.

"As a short-term measure, we have identified flats that will be renovated and equipped with Wi-Fi and other social amenities like gyms."

Harare City Council nurses continued to trickle back to work yesterday, but some clinics were still providing basic care with skeleton staff, as the city health service department estimated that almost half the day shift nurses, but less than a third of the night shift, were back on duty.

More nurses are expected to return to work, for at least two days a week, once their November salaries reach their bank accounts.

Late salary payments are a sticking point for all Harare medical staff and was one of the major reasons for the strike action.

More nurses have for now committed to work at least two days a week until their salaries are reviewed in line with price increases.

The nurses are getting $150 as transport allowance and a net salary of $987, but said they still could not afford to report for work every day.

A survey of council clinics yesterday showed many had re-opened to the public, although most were still operating with just skeleton staff.

Clinics in Hopley, Old Highfield, Rutsanana in Glen Norah and Edith Opperman in Mbare were functional, but offering limited services due to the few numbers of nurses who had reported for duty.

Scores of women could be seen waiting to get assistance at Edith Opperman Clinic, with all departments besides the maternity wing now fully operational.

A nurse who spoke on condition of anonymity at the clinic confirmed that a number of nurses had reported for work on Monday.

"A number of our colleagues returned to work yesterday (Monday) after the employer promised to pay, but we are still largely incapacitated," said the nurse. "We have not yet reached our full complement, but we are doing our best to cope with the burden of care."

At the Glen Norah Polyclinic, Rutsanana Satellite and Old Highfield Polyclinic, a few nurses could be seen attending to patients.

The situation was the same at Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital, but it was reportedly set to close at 1pm since there were no doctors on duty.

The hospital usually closes at 4pm.

Contacted for comment, Harare City Health Director Dr Prosper Chonzi said although service delivery was slowly picking up at most health centres as the nurses continued to trickle in, night shifts were still being affected.

"About 45 to 50 percent of nurses have returned to work at our clinics and they are still citing incapacitation," he said. "We are hoping that (city) Treasury will sort out their salaries with urgency. We want all of our nurses back at work.

"As concerns night duty, the situation is still very bad as about 30 percent of the nurses are turning up for work. For that reason, we are not admitting any patients at the Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital though other clinics are functional."

Dr Chonzi said action would be taken against those who were reportedly threatening the nurses now reporting for work.

Zimbabwe Urban and Rural Council Nurses Workers Union president Mr Simbarashe Tafirenyika expressed concern over the slow pace by the municipality in procesing salary payments for nurses.

"We promise to return to work once we receive our salaries," he said. "The human resources had promised us that our salaries would be paid on Friday, but up to now there is nothing."

In further post Cabinet briefings on health issues, National Housing and Social Amenities Minister Daniel Garwe said Government had decided to prioritise the construction of social amenities facilities at all major hospitals across the country.

Work will start with the country's referral hospitals before being decentralised to provincial and later district hospitals.

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, said Cabinet considered and approved the Medical Services Amendment Bill 2019.

The Bill was presented by Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi who chairs the Committee on Legislation.

"The Minister informed Cabinet that the Medical Services Amendment Bill 2019 is intended to align the Medical Services Act (Chapter 15:13) with the Constitution, under the ongoing Legislative Reform Programme, which is being pursued by the Second Republic," said Minister Mutsvangwa.

"The Amendment primarily seeks to safeguard and promote the right of every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe to access basic health care services, including reproductive health care; the right of every person to emergency medical treatment in any health institution; and the right of every child to health care services.

"In particular, the Amendment accords priority to the rights of persons over 70 years, persons living with disabilities and veterans of the liberation struggle to access medical attention."

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