By IOL and BBC
Zimbabwe state doctors who were fired for going on strike have rejected a government offer to return to work, their union said this weekend.
The doctors went on strike on September 3 to protest against poor wages, in some cases less than US$100 a month.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, which responded to the job boycott by firing 448 doctors and pursuing disciplinary action against more than 1 000 others, last week offered to reinstate them if they returned to work within 48 hours.
Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade that has seen resurgent inflation soaring to three-digit levels, eroding salaries and bringing back bitter memories of the hyperinflation era of a decade ago.
According to the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), the last wage offer by the government would see the doctors earning a total package, including allowances, of Z$3 900 (about US$240) per month.
“Sadly, the moratorium has come without a new offer on the table having been communicated to us,” ZHDA said, explaining its rejection of the offer.
The strike by junior and middle-level doctors has paralyzed state hospitals, used by Zimbabwe’s poor majority. Even before the strike, the hospitals had already been struggling with shortages of drugs and other basic products.
Critics say President Emmerson Mnangagwa has failed to keep promises he made in last year’s election campaign to revive the economy by pushing through reforms, attracting foreign investment and rebuilding collapsing infrastructure.
On Thursday Parirenyatwa Hospital, the country’s biggest, was deserted, with only a handful of desperate patients being attended to by nurses.
Sheila Muzanenhamo, who lives in one of Harare’s poorest townships, Epworth, grimaced as she explained how she had been turned away from the hospital because there was no doctor to attend to her. “I have been here since dawn, hoping to get assistance but the nurses said they could not help me,” said Muzanenhamo. “They told me to go to private doctors, but I have no money to pay for that.”
Senior doctors in Zimbabwe’s public hospitals have downed tools in protest against deteriorating working conditions and the firing of over 435 junior medical officers by the government following a three months-long impasse over poor salaries, the doctor’s association said.
The Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA), a group of doctors, including specialists who had remained on duty at the country’s hospitals, while junior doctors began a boycott in September for higher pay, announced the strike in a move that is set to worsen the country’s already dire health situation.
The senior doctors described the situation at the country’s hospitals as a silent genocide, saying doctors are forced to work without basics such as bandages, gloves, and syringes.
“We have watched the past few months as the situation in our hospitals continues to deteriorate.
“In March this year, the situation in hospitals deteriorated to the point where there were no bandages, gloves, and syringes available forcing senior doctors to highlight the dire situation publicly. It is important to find out why this has taken so long to be resolved as a silent genocide continues to be perpetrated upon the people of Zimbabwe,” the statement said.
The doctor’s association said its members could no longer cope with such conditions and demanded the reinstatement of those that were dismissed over the strike.
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The government has responded to Tuesday’s announcement from the senior doctors by issuing notices for disciplinary hearings against them and advertising their jobs.
“The Ministry of Health and Child Care will publish before the end of this week, an advert in the press for all posts that have become vacant as a result of these disciplinary cases,” Minister of Information Monica Mutsvangwa told Zimbabwe’s cabinet on Tuesday.
“The authorities are so vindictive that they went to the theatre to hand a letter to a doctor who was finishing up an emergency operation.
“For the record, senior doctors will not be re-applying to come back to work. We do not accept that one can be dismissed for being incapacitated to come to work in an unsafe environment with nothing to use. We reiterate we are not on strike,” the doctor’s group said in a statement.
“We are incapacitated like all other doctors, both financially and in terms of tools of the trade. Thus we are unable to continue subsidizing the employer and reporting for duty,” Shingai Nyaguse, SHDA president told reporters.
Since September, Zimbabwean junior doctors have been engaged in a battle with the government over conditions of service and poor pay, which they say has been eroded by hyperinflation in the country.
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