Zimbabwe: Hundreds of public sector doctors sacked as swine flu hits

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Zimbabwe’s striking medical doctors have rejected a “paltry government” allowance offer of US$48 on top of their monthly salaries as government fires junior doctors. Doctors at government hospitals have been staying away from work for the past three weeks.

On Friday Hospital Doctors Association (HDA) said their members turned down the US$48 increment saying its an insult.

At Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, Clinical Director Sydney Makarau told striking doctors that they had unlawfully withdrawn their labour, putting the lives of patients at risk. His letter told them they were barred from the hospital and its residence accommodations, and informed them that they will be removed from the state payroll. According to sources, the number of striking doctors has been estimated at about 300.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Friday appeal to doctors to go back to work has failed to yield anything. Patients are being turned away and two children are reported to have died at Mpilo Hospital reception as no one was attending to them.

Said HDA president Blessing Chizhande, “We had a meeting yesterday
(Friday) with authorities and nothing concrete came out of that meeting… The allowances they offered as top up to our already pathetic salaries of US$48 is an insult. We feel that US$48 allowance is not enough. Other allowances from aid organisations are also yet to come” he said.

The doctors are demanding a monthly salary of US$1 000 plus US$500
allowance compared to the US$170 that they earn now. The strike by doctors at public hospitals is threatening the recovery of the country’s health delivery system at a time when the sector is struggling to recover from last year’s crisis.

Addressing the annual Zimbabwe Medical Association Congress in Harare
on Friday Tsvangirai said government was doing its best to address the
strike. “I know that your conditions of service still leave a lot to be desired. You cannot have a better trade unionist than myself to appreciate your conditions,” Tsvangirai said.

Tsvangirai, who launched his political career in the trade union movement, told the congress of doctors, radiologists, pharmacists and other medical professionals that their and conditions of service were far inadequate. “I will continue to do so (working hard), and ensure that the benefits of our slow but economic revival are felt and shared by everyone. I also urge those health professionals who have embarked on industrial action to recognise the efforts that the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and Health Service Board have made, and are continuing to make even prior the industrial action,” he said.

On swine flue Tsvangirai said, “The outbreak of the swine flu (is a) national emergency. We do not want a repeat of the cholera experience of last year,” Harare on Friday.

The industrial action has brought back memories of last year when striking doctors and nurses deserted hospitals as a cholera epidemic ravaged Zimbabwe, killing more than 4 000 people before it was brought under control.

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