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FILE: A patient is taken home on a stretcher by his relatives from Parirenyatwa hospital's accident and emergency ward in the capital Harare August 21, 2009.

Scores of senior doctors in Zimbabwe’s public hospitals have threatened to strike starting Thursday, if the government fails to meet their demand for better salaries and working conditions.

They would join hundreds of their junior counterparts, who’ve been on strike since September 3 for the same reasons. Patients are being turned away from public health facilities amid the southern African country’s protracted economic crisis, given shortages of staffing, medical equipment and supplies.

“Appalling and disgraceful” conditions have left “no option but to openly declare our incapacitation,” the Senior Hospital Doctors Association said in a statement, setting a deadline of Thursday for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to respond.

According to the Zimbabwe Health Service Board, the government employs roughly 1,550 doctors and specialists in public hospitals serving the southern African country of 14 million.

Doctors have complained that their salaries – less than US$200 a month for juniors – barely cover their living expenses amid the country’s protracted economic crisis.

Almost all of the 524 junior doctors are believed to be striking. About 200 more doctors, including specialists, would walk off the job in a strike by seniors.

Dr. Paulinus Sikosana, who chairs the Zimbabwe Health Service Board, urged the senior doctors to keep working for the sake of patients.

“While we try to negotiate, perhaps, we appeal to the doctors’ consciences … to look after the lives of patients, especially those who have no recourse” in the private medical sector,” Sikosana told VOA when reached by phone Tuesday in Harare, the capital.

Sikosana said the government recently began re-equipping some hospitals with the help of foreign donations from the United Arab Emirates and India.

He added that the government allows its senior doctors to have private practices, through which they can earn extra money.

“We have given them permission to do private practice even during working hours,” Sikosana said. He noted that the senior doctors also can admit their private patients into public hospitals for operations.

Sikosana said the government recently began re-equipping some hospitals with the help of foreign donations from the United Arab Emirates and India.

The country’s poor economy has strained the government’s ability to provide much-needed foreign capital, Sikosana said.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa delivers his State of the nation address at the opening session of parliament in Harare, Oct. 1, 2019.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Tuesday pleaded for time and patience to bring the economy back from the "dead," as his government faces blame for surging inflation evoking dark days under Robert Mugabe.

Hopes that the economy would quickly rebound under Mnangagwa, who took over after Mugabe was deposed in a coup in November 2017, have faded fast with Zimbabweans grappling with acute shortages of fuel and electricity and soaring prices.

In a state of the nation address in parliament, boycotted by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which disputes his election, Mnangagwa acknowledged the economic crisis as well as the need for reforms.

"I'm aware of the pain being experienced by the poor and the marginalised. Getting the economy working again from being dead will require time, patience, unity of purpose and perseverance," Mnangagwa said.

Zimbabwe has suspended the publication of official annual inflation data since August 1. In its last official figures, inflation hit more than 175% in June, its highest level since hyperinflation under Mugabe wiped out the economy in 2009.

Mnangagwa's opponents accuse him of lacking commitment to political reforms and using his predecessor's heavy-handed tactics to stifle dissent.

The International Monetary Fund said last week that Zimbabwe needed to intensify reform efforts and meaningfully improve transparency to boost economic growth.

Mnangagwa and senior officials say they are doing their best to lay the foundations for future growth and blame Western sanctions for hampering recovery and deterring investment.

A United Nations human rights envoy said on Friday that Zimbabwe's political and economic environment was deteriorating, causing anxiety as hopes fade for a long-awaited improvement in people's living conditions.

In his address on Tuesday, Mnangagwa repeated his commitment to implement recommendations made by election observer missions to Zimbabwe's 2018 election, as well as a commission of inquiry led by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe.

The observers and the commission had called for broad security, political and electoral reforms.

Mnangagwa, whose election last year remains disputed by the MDC, once again invited the opposition party to dialogue.

The MDC, led by Nelson Chamisa, has refused to take part in a dialogue forum convened by Mnangagwa, insisting on talks led by a neutral mediator.

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