THE ongoing public health professionals’ strike that has crippled major government hospitals is continuing unabated until the demands of the workers have been met, leaving many patients stranded.
This week, health workers in public institutions downed tools citing paltry salaries and pathetic working conditions.
They are arguing that the government is giving a deaf ear to their plight and to the reality that inflation has eroded their meagre earnings. Inflation has since shot up to 137%. Physician Tapiwa Kusotera told the Zimbabwe Independent that the strike would go on indefinitely.
“This is a matter of survival for the workers. From what I am seeing, the mass action is likely to continue indefinitely. The workers are the ones to decide but their demands have to be met for the strike to end,” Kusotera said.
A visit to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, the largest referral health facility, painted a sorry sight.
Patients at the casualty section were stranded while their relatives could be seen pleading with officials for assistance.
The casualty department is a medical treatment facility specialising in acute care of patients who are admitted without prior appointment, either by their own means or by ambulance.
“I came with my mother this morning and it’s almost lunchtime, she has not yet been attended to. She has been having continuous hiccups and vomiting for several days and we are not sure what the problem is,” Macdonald Ncube told the Independent.
“Government should not treat us as if we are sub-humans. Those in power are there because they have a mandate to ensure that the lives of people are improved not worsened. I do not have money to take my mother to a private hospital. What should I do now?”
Section 76 (1) of the Constitution provides that: “Every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has the right to have access to basic healthcare services, including reproductive healthcare services.”
The same section on (4) adds that: “The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it, to achieve the progressive realisation of the rights set out in this section.”
However, what is currently prevailing speaks otherwise. The situation has left patients in physical and mental agony. However, health professionals argue that it is for the best as they push the government to act.
“We work in the most deplorable of conditions here,” said a nurse at Sally Mugabe Hospital who refused to be named for fear of victimisation.
“We put up with a lot. But what we get is an insult. I cannot send my son to a good school. I cannot put food on the table, and my salary is inadequate for me to pay bills and provide for my family. This nonsense must stop. If not, we will not be going back to work. If they are going to fire us, so be it!” she charged.
Nurses are getting an average of ZW$30 000 per month which fetches about US$40 on the parallel market.
In comparison, private hospitals are paying nurses between US$500 and US$600 per month.
In Namibia, nurses get an average monthly salary of NAD22 000 which is about US$1 477. In neighbouring South Africa, nurses earn a monthly salary of about R28 470 which translates to US$1 783.
The yawning gap coupled with the high cost of living biting citizens has radicalised workers in the health sector.
Further compounding the problem for patients is the fact that some health workers at Premier Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) hospitals are on a go-slow industrial action because of poor salaries which do not come on time.
A doctor at West End hospital in Harare said: “We last got paid in May and now we are being told that we will be getting 25% of the total salary because they do not have money; 25% of nothing is nothing. How am I supposed to survive on that?”
The same sentiments were echoed by another doctor at a PSMAS health institution in Bulawayo.
He said: “I am supposed to be at work today but I did not report for duty. I cannot go there to work for peanuts.”
“When I joined PSMAS, I used to save an average of 70 patients per day but these days, 20 is enough for me. We advise patients that the system is down and they cannot be entered before seeing the doctor. It is now the norm.”
Most government workers are on PSMAS medical aid, which means they cannot get the attention they require at public hospitals or the medical aid they subscribe to.
Health Apex Council secretary general Lloyd Sarai said workers should not be intimidated, instead they “should remain resolute as we are not committing any crime of misconduct”.
Contacted for comment, director of public relations at the Health Services Board Tryfine Dzvukutu said: “Negotiations with representatives of health professionals started on Monday and I cannot comment before the talks concluded.”