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Zimbabwe Doctors Down Stethoscopes, Demand Firing of Health Minister

David Parirenyatwa

The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) has upped the ante on Health Minister Dr. David Parirenyatwa saying he must be fired for alleged corruption and incompetence.

Parirenyatwa is at the center of an ongoing industrial action by doctors and other medical staff at Premier Service Medical Investment (PSMI), a subsidiary of the crisis ridden quasi government health insurer, Public Service Medical Society (PSMAS) which claims to have a membership of 600,000, the majority being civil servants.

The industrial action started Monday over salary arrears dating to July thie year. The doctors have petitioned PSMAS management, seeking an immediate meeting over unpaid salaries.

"We have collectively decided that we cannot continue to work in the absence of payment for work from previous months. We have made previous communication on this matter and have been promised payments which, until now, have not materialized and any move towards payment of our salaries will promptly encourage us to get back to work as zealously as we have always done.”

But doctors are also bitter that PSMAS management allegedly paid Parirenyatwa US$77,000 in advance.

ZHDA president Dr. Fortune Nyamande told Voice of America News that Dr. Parirenyatwa is no longer fit for purpose and that the current industrial action “adds weight” to their calls for the minister to step down or be fired.

The call for Parirenytwa to step down is growing louder. Executive director Calvin Fambirai of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) issued a statement last month denouncing the minister and questioning his continued stay at the ministry.

“Public officers such as ministers are public servants and their mandate as entrusted to them by members of the public is to provide public services for the public good. Any public official implicated in corruption and shady dealings must resign in order to restore the public’s trust in the health delivery system. We are, therefore, dismayed at the culture of impunity that has pervaded public office bearers and lament its evidence within the health sector.”

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change legislators mounted pressure on Parirenyatwa calling on government to investigate circumstances under which he claimed an advance payment from the financially-struggling PSMAS through his private firm, CHEST, in May 2014.

But Parirenyatwa defended himself, claiming it was a common practice in the health industry to get advance payments.

"It's above board. It's called capitation where a service provider can request an insurer to pay him more than what he is owed. This money would then be recovered through future claims to the insurer by the service provider. It's a common norm in the medical industry," Parirenyatwa was quoted as saying by the state leaning Chronicle newspaper.

Government owes PSMAS almost a US$100 million while the health insurer, in turn, owes PSMI US$44 million in unpaid subscription. PSMI was established as an investment wing to safeguard the members’ funds and it has clinics, laboratories, pharmacies, hospitals, dental centers and rehabilitation centers.

Initially members had the choice to access a medical facility of their choice but many private and even government institutions are demanding cash upfront from PSMAS members as the health insurer is struggling to settle mounting debts.

Last year, the tax authority the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority garnished PSMAS bank accounts for tax arrears of over US$40 million.