By Bridget Mananavire and Fungi Kwaramba
The strike by doctors and nurses who were yesterday joined by midwives has paralysed State hospitals where uniformed forces, roped in by government to contain the situation, have been overwhelmed by the chaos as the industrial action widens.
This comes as President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government is bracing for a mega strike by thousands of miffed civil servants who will stay from work starting Monday unless they have been given their outstanding bonuses.
Yesterday, government was scrambling to avoid the strike by the bulk of the civil service while hoping to reach an agreement with the doctors and nurses under the Health Service Bipartite Negotiating Panel.
As Chinamasa was negotiating, midwives at Mbuya Nehanda Maternity Hospital — which is part of Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals — joined nurses, junior and senior doctors in the strike, protesting over poor working conditions.
“Midwives would like to inform you that they will not be able to continue discharging their duties with immediate effect due to the following reasons: We are overwhelmed with a continuous inflow of patients with other hospitals not functioning, doing both doctors and midwives’ duties,” the midwives said in an urgent memo.
The midwives said they wanted an upward review of night duty allowance, risk allowance and the grading system.
Thousands of patients were being turned away at Harare Central, Parirenyatwa and Chitungwiza hospitals, respectively, as the strike widened.
Scheduled operations and outpatient services were cancelled as the strike bit harder.
At Harare Central Hospital, relatives of admitted patients were being turned away with reports of widespread deaths being made — although this was not verified through official government channels.
Chitungwiza Central Hospital was on Wednesday night forced to close one ward while critical patients were transferred to another wing where they were all housed under one roof.
Yesterday, those with sick relatives were denied entry into the hospital as mortuary attendants were busy collecting bodies of the dead, nurse aides and other sources at the hospital, told the Daily News.
Junior doctors went on strike three weeks ago to press the government to honour its promises of improving their working conditions.
But stung by the strike, the government threatened that it was going to terminate the services of all doctors who continued to stay away from work — a threat that miserably failed to achieve the desired result.
Junior doctors want the government to revise upwards, to a minimum of $720 on call allowances for the least paid doctors, and that the Health Services Board urgently implements the agreed duty-free framework for all government doctors.
Despite the humongous problems bedevilling the public health sector, Mugabe’s misfiring government has once again allocated a measly budget to hospitals and clinics this year.
In his budget presentation in December, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa reduced the vote for Health from $331 million to a disappointing $282 million — a figure that falls way short of meeting the big demands of the public health sector.
At the beginning of the year, hospitals warned that they were left with two weeks’ supply of a major drug used during surgical operations — after major drug supplier, GSK, pulled out of the Zimbabwean market last year.
Last year, major referral hospitals also had to suspend many services as a result of the shortage of drugs, including painkillers — exposing how much things have fallen apart in the country since the early 2000s.
United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) and Harare Central Hospital were among the major health facilities that had to suspend normal services as a result of drug shortages, including pethidine — a synthetic compound used as a painkiller, especially for women in labour and during Caesarean operations.
And Binga District Hospital, which is situated in one of Zimbabwe’s poorest regions, was last year also forced to scale back its services as a result of water and electricity shortages. Daily News