On Tuesday, Zimbabwe Junior doctors called off an industrial action of over 100 days and have resumed their duties at all public hospitals. This comes after the intervention of Catholic bishops who met with President Emmerson Mnangagwa regarding the degenerating situation, and a possible solution.
The meeting resulted in Mnangagwa issuing a moratorium for them to report for duty within 48-hours without being questioned. These included those who were part of the 448 doctors fired by Health Services Board for misconduct after they disregarded several ultimatums to return to work.
However, some of the doctors remained defiant, insisting that they are paid their salaries in foreign currency or equivalent, in which the Government replied saying it could not afford to. Some only reported for duty after the Higher Life Foundation came up with a $100 million fellowship programme to incentivize practitioners in the health sector for the period of six to 12 months.
While a significant number of junior doctors reporting for duty, the seniors insist they will only work when their concerns are resolved. The senior health workers downed tools late November last year in solidarity with junior doctors who had gone for almost three months on strike with the government failing to attend to meet their demands.
During the prolonged job action by doctors, Central hospitals have been turning away patients as they are operating below capacity. The medical professionals want their salaries increased, machinery availed, the termination of Flexi hours system for nurses and other hospital staff, among other demands
With the absence of senior doctors, the situation became complicated as most patients in the Out Patients ward could not be attended by junior doctors without the guidance of their senior counterparts. Senior public hospital doctors on Tuesday vowed to press on with their strike action even after the government has withdrawn their salaries and with their junior colleagues returning to work.
Senior Hospitals Doctors Association (SHDA) secretary-general, Aaron Musara said medical specialists’ salaries are being withheld by the government and only consultants employed by the University of Zimbabwe were being paid. Salaries of specialists directly employed by the Ministry of Health and Child Care were suspended, while university consultants are still being paid. “As for the specialists whom the government calls supernumerary doctors, these have not been on salary since their appointment, which is very unfair.
Junior doctors may have resumed duties as in reporting to their stations but how are they going to work with such a severe shortage of equipment. Senior doctors are therefore waiting for the hospitals to be equipped before returning to work.
The government, in its latest engagement with the SHDA, refused to address the doctors’ grievances saying it will only consider doing so if they resumed their duties. SHDA has however maintained its stance that members will report for work when their demands are met by the health ministry.
The SHDA is at a stand that there is no resolution to the incapacitation of doctors and hospitals. The hospitals remain incapacitated. Specialists, however, continue to offer some emergency services where possible, as shortages of drugs, sundries and broken-down equipment still remains a challenge.
By Faith Ikade.