Harare(New Ziana) – Operations at major referral hospitals in the country are down to below 40 percent as the illegal strike by doctors continues to drag on, a Cabinet Minister has said.
Junior doctors downed tools almost three months ago citing low pay and poor working conditions and were later joined by their senior colleagues who also cited similar grievances.
In a bid to end the stand-off, the government, which had fired 448 of the striking junior doctors, offered a two day moratorium to return to work on a no questions asked basis, but the offer was largely rebuffed after only forty six took it up.
That was on top of several concessions that the government has made to meet their demands including an upward review of their allowances as well as provision of new equipment and sundries sourced from India and the United Arab Emirates.
It was also on top of a separate $100 million top-up salary offered by telecommunications mogul Strive Masiyiwa to augment government pay which the doctors again turned down.
Detailing the implications of the strike, Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said the withdrawal of labour by the doctors had negatively impacted on the health delivery system.
“In this situation, our major referral institutions, the central hospitals are the most affected as they are operating below capacity with Chitungwiza Central Hospital being the only one operating at above 39 percent capacity,” he told Parliament in a Ministerial statement.
“There is minimal health care provision in our public health institutions being rendered by the various health care workers who themselves did not participate in the withdrawal of labour as with the doctors.”
In the provinces, Moyo said, health care provision was better compared to central hospitals.
“There are a few provinces where doctors have withdrawn labour. Government is working to ensure that minimum service delivery is made available through the deployment of clinical officers who are stationed in the provinces,” he said.
Moyo said patients were going elsewhere to seek treatment including private hospitals which were however beyond the reach of many.
He said the government was doing all it could to resolve the impasse, and had in the mean-time enlisted the help of doctors from the security sector to offer services at central and provincial hospitals.
Moyo acknowledged the challenges being faced by the health care workers, but highlighted government efforts to restore normalcy.
He said a gap analysis of medical equipment for critical departments in Central Hospitals such as theatres, Intensive Care Units, High Dependant Units , maternity, neonatal units, paediatric units, radiology and radiotherapy revealed requirements of at least US$35 million.
Requirements for provincial and district hospitals attracted a further US$18 million, Moyo said.
Moyo said a proposal for an upward review of health worker retention allowance for a period of two years was to be discussed with donors while the World Bank was also looking at giving assistance to health care personnel.
“The Ministry is currently revisiting the allocation of institutional accommodation and making efforts to secure additional off site accommodation in the short term. To this effect, Government is in discussion with NSSA for use of their flats which are in Eastlea,” he said.
“The construction of institutional accommodation for health workers in the medium to long term is proceeding through the Ministry of National Housing.”
“Government is thankful to other workers including those doctors who are still offering services.”