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Zimbabwe's Striking Doctors Dismissed; PM Tsvangirai Urges H1N1 Preparedness

Health authorities in Zimbabwe have dismissed junior doctors who have been on strike at state hospitals in recent weeks over compensation and working conditions.

The move closely followed an appeal by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai for the residents to resume treating patients given the risk of a resurgence of the 2008-2009 cholera epidemic or an H1N1 or swine flu pandemic now that five cases have been confirmed in the country.

Tests confirmed five pupils at a school in Mutare, in eastern Manicaland Province, were hit by the H1N1 virus, Health Minister Henry Madzorera said this week.

The physicians strike began three weeks with a walkout by Bulawayo doctors, who were joined by their colleagues in Harare a week later.

At Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, Clinical Director Sydney Makarau told striking doctors that they had unlawfully withdrawn their labor, putting the lives of patients at risk.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.

Mr. Tsvangirai told the Zimbabwe Medical Association's annual conference that confirmation of swine flu cases demands emergency preparedness in the event a major outbreak occurs.

The country cannot afford a repeat of last year’s crisis during which doctors were out on strike through much of a major cholera outbreak, Mr. Tsvangirai said.

The situation "requires all our capacities to respond," said Mr. Tsvangirai. ''We do not want a repeat of the cholera experience last year."

He said the strike was regrettable, adding that annual walkouts by doctors must stop.

The prime minister promised to improve conditions for doctors, however, calling it a “travesty of justice” that physicians must use public transport to get to public hospitals while the government is making loans to members of parliament so they can buy vehicles.

"It is unhealthy that we have can provide parliamentarians with a vehicle scheme yet we are not able to provide a vehicle scheme for our industrious doctors," he said.

He urged the doctors to reconsider not their demands and the achievements of the Health Ministry in reviving the prostrate health sector.

Mr. Tsvangirai also said the country's public health system was far from recovering after last year's collapse, adding there, however, were signs of improvement.

"Sadly it is a far cry from the shining example that it was a few years back. One might say it is itself in intensive care," he said. "I'm glad that the situation has since improved but there is still a lot of work to be done. This is one of my top priorities as prime minister."

Hospital Doctors Association President Brighton Chizhande told VOA reporter Sandra Nyaira that the doctors are now seeking Mr. Tsvangirai’s intervention in the crisis.

Earlier, the Hospital Doctor’s Association charged that senior doctors at state hospitals were threatening to dismiss junior doctors under their supervision for joining the strike.

Harare correspondent Sylvia Manika reported from Harare.

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