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Senior Zimbabwe Doctors Threatening to Down Tools Over Low Pay, Lack of Essential Services

FILE: Junior doctors on strike in Zimbabwe.

Senior Zimbabwean doctors have given the government 24 hours to increase their salaries and provide essential services at state hospitals, saying they are too incapacitated to perform their duties as junior doctors are on strike while nurses and other workers are reporting for duty only two or three days a week.

They are threatening to down their tools on Thursday if the government does not address their grievances.

In a memo written to the Ministry of Health and copied to all relevant authorities, the doctors said the government ignored their concerns following a meeting they held with state officials last month.

“No effort has been taken to address any of our concerns, giving the impression that there is no interest on the part of the Government to address those concerns. In this regard, we need not remind you of the State’s obligations in terms of sections 65 and 76 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe as well as Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as read with Article 12 (a) to (d) of General Comment No. 14 of 2000.”

The doctors said there are no basic requirements for the attainment of the right to health in Zimbabwe.

They said health service delivery requires a full complement of medical professionals such as consultants, senior registrars, junior doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals.

“At present, due to their incapacitation, nurses and other allied health professionals are coming to work for 2-3 days per week, as per ministry directive, while junior doctors are completely incapacitated. This creates unbearable pressure on the senior hospital doctors in terms of the work load. It is for this reason that we scaled down our operation to the provision of only emergency hospital services.”

They noted that state hospitals do not have adequate stocks of essential medicines and sundries particularly in critical areas such as Casualty, Maternity, Neonatal Units, High Dependency and Intensive Care Units as well as theatres.

According to the doctors, medical equipment and machinery keep breaking down. Diagnostic services, especially laboratory and radiological, are erratic and not in keeping with the requirements for patient care and there are perennial stock-outs of reagents.

“Without a full complement of medical personnel necessary for the management of a patient’s health, and without the necessary tools of trade such as essential and critical drugs, machinery and other essentials, we cannot conscientiously pretend to be offering acceptable and quality healthcare when all that we are doing is to walk with patients to a certain slow death due to a failing health care system. We are incapacitated and cannot continue working like this.

"Our conditions of service are appalling and disgraceful to say the least. Our remuneration is not in line with comparative remuneration trends regionally. South African senior hospital doctors are paid an average of ZAR80 000 – ZAR 120 000 per month. In our situation senior medical doctors are paid a basic salary of less than RTGS500.00 while Consultants receive a basic salary of RTGS 1010.00.”

They said the salaries are a pittance which does not take into account the rising cost of living, which sees the entire basic salary of a senior medical doctor as barely adequate to fuel up a small vehicle to get the same doctor to go to work.

“As it stands, our remuneration is neither commensurate with our skills and services and also out of touch with our lived realities in terms of the costs of basic goods and services. We are thus incapacitated from continuing to come to work as our remuneration has been eroded by the ever-rising cost of living. We have a right to be able to practice our profession in a manner that allows us to fulfil our professional responsibilities to patients and society.”

The doctors stressed that they also have a right to practice ethically and in an environment that allows them to practice legally and in accordance with professional standards. They added that they “have the right to advocate for ourselves, to receive fair compensation for our services, to perform our duties in safe working environment and to negotiate our working conditions and compensation levels. As a profession, we have been patiently negotiating our conditions of service with the Employer for years. Unfortunately, the Employer has not been forthcoming.

“In the circumstances, and on account of your failure to address or at least respond to our concerns as summarised above, we are left with no option but to openly declare our incapacitation. It is with a heavy heart we hereby inform you that with effect from Thursday 03 October 2019 at 0800hrs, we shall not be able to continue reporting for duty until the causes of our incapacitation have been addressed by you.”

Health Service Board chairperson Paulinus Sikosana urged doctors to continue working while they were addressing their grievances.