Zimbabwe’s ailing health system
Zimbabwe’s doctors, nurses refuse forex pay offer
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Zimbabwe’s ailing health system, close to a decade now in the intensive care unit is facing total collapse after junior doctors and nurses, who put down their tools last October when their demands for new salaries pegged in United States dollars failed. They say their salaries can not possibly meet their monthly requirements.
Government had through the ministry of health allocated between US$50 and US$850 a month to the lowest paid health worker and seasoned professionals respectively. Instead, the doctors and nurses are demanding a starting salary of US$ 2,000 a month.
Health Minister, David Parirenyatwa is quoted in the government controlled The Herald confirming that his ministry “has budgeted at least US$I.5 million a month for salaries and that “the new salaries are effective January 1.” The paper also quotes Hospitals Doctors’ Association secretary-general Dr Malcolm Masikati saying junior doctors want a monthly salary of at least US$2, 600 with specialist doctors asking for US$ 4, 000, which they argue are what their colleagues in the region earn. Masikati also said the health professionals have vowed not to return to work until their grievances are addressed.
“We have not yet received any communication from either the ministry or the Health Services Board. Last year they (Government) told us our grievances would be addressed this month and we are still waiting for a response. We will not return to work until our needs are addressed,” said Masikati.
Zimbabwe’s health delivery system, once considered the marvel of Africa but now in a continuous state of bleeding, has witnessed the collapse of health services at major hospitals. Most health professionals have left in droves to neighbouring countries like South Africa and Botswana where they are offered better working conditions. There is serious shortage of drugs, medicines and most equipment is obsolete taking ages to be replaced. The situation has also been compounded by a cholera outbreak that began in August last year and has to date wiped more than 1,800 lives.
The government is headed for a showdown this year as most if not all labour unions are demanding that workers be paid in foreign currency, following the dollarization of the economy. Most Zimbabweans now carry out their business transactions in the American dollar, which is more stable as the local currency has lost its value due to incessant hyper-inflation.
The situation has been worsened by the central bank’s move to license some shops to sell goods in foreign currency. Teachers who have been on strike almost the whole of last year said they would not report for duty if their demands for a staring salary of US$ 2,200 is not met. Schools have also requested government to charge their fees in foreign currency. Some institutions of higher learning have already pegged their fees in the US dollar.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) is quoted in the media saying the union is pressing for workers to be paid in foreign currency.
“If authorities say they have no confidence in the local currency, who are we to have confidence in it, “said Matombo.
With the Zimbabwean dollar heavily eroded by the highest inflation in the world, officially pegged at 231 million percent, though independent economist argue it is much higher, both traders and consumers now reject the use of local currency in favour of hard cash, particularly the American dollar and the South African rand.
There appears to be no immediate end to Zimbabwe’s economic and humanitarian meltdown, which is worsening daily, with the power sharing agreement signed by Robert Mugabe and opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai in September last year dithering on the brink of collapse as the two protagonists cannot agree on equitable power sharing.