The Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) has urged the government and doctors to re-engage to avert the impending strike that could plunge the country’s already ailing health sector further into crisis, with patients being the major victims.
Government doctors last week gave notice that they would go on strike following their rejection of a 60% salary increase offer. The doctors want their salaries to be adjusted to an interbank rate that is based on the market forces of the day to insulate them from the current hyper-inflationary environment. They argue that their salaries have been eroded by inflation rendering them unable to feed their families and even commuting to work.
“CWGH sympathises with the doctors because we truly believe that their grievances are genuine, have been raised before and need urgent attention. We however do not condone a job action as it will result into unnecessary suffering and deaths of ordinary people, who rely on the already crumbling public health delivery system.
“It is grossly unfair for the government to pretend as if the doctors’ demands are new or unreasonable when the prices of basic commodities, transport, accommodation and the general cost of living has skyrocketed in the past few months. The doctors’ presentation of facts surely validates their claim for an upward salary review,” Mr. Itai Rusike, the CWGH Executive Director said.
This is not the first time doctors have raised the same issue of low salaries to which the government has always promised to address. But once they return to work, their problems are forgotten and never looked into. CWGH is pleading with government to address health workers’ grievances promptly
It condemned in strongest terms reports of intimidation and threats of physical harm on the doctors by suspected State agents. The organisation argued that threats or coercion of any form will further deepen the mistrust that exists between government and the doctors and called for re-engagement and dialogue as the panacea to any dispute. The Health Services Board (HSB), as the employers, was urged to take a leading and active role in the dialogue.
CWGH said the strike action could cripple operations in major health institutions – Mpilo, Bulawayo United, Parirenyatwa Group, Harare and Chitungwiza Hospitals — resulting in untold suffering of innocent patients and possibly numerous avoidable and preventable deaths. If not handled with the care and urgency it deserves, they argued, the strike could degenerate into a national disaster with other health practitioners joining, not only in sympathy but because they experience the same challenges.
For the past five years or so, the doctors have been promised non- cash incentives whenever they strike but when they resume work those promises were not fulfilled, instead they get threats. CWGH felt that the issue of non-cash incentives such as duty-free vehicles, housing stands and opportunity for career growth has to be prioritised. It said the vehicle duty assisted framework and other incentives agreed upon between the government and doctors should be implemented immediately to enable them to respond to medical emergencies in time.
CWGH argued that a health workforce is central in any health system and gaps such as the shortage of health workers or strikes are cited as one barrier in efforts to achieve universal health coverage. Both for quality and equity, health systems need motivated health workers who are satisfied with their jobs, stay at their stations, deliver quality services and communicate well with clients.
Only last year, doctors embarked on an over-a-month-long strike which they eventually abandoned after government promises to improve their working conditions. But when they resumed work – albeit after threats and blackmailing – their concerns were never addressed.
“We sincerely urges government to honour previous and future promises to health workers to build trust between dialoging stakeholders. Let us value, respect our health workers including doctors and give them back their dignity.
“CWGH calls upon the doctors and the government to reconsider their current positions and reengage for the sake of patients. We strongly feel that there must be speedy, fair and impartial procedure for resolving disputes. We express our solidarity with the doctors and all health workers in Zimbabwe. We pledge our support to health workers who work tirelessly in the interests of their patients’ health and well-being, as part of their commitment to realising their patients’ human rights, including the right to health. Health is a fundamental human right and everyone must enjoy this right.”