HARARE – The current standoff between government and hospital doctors is coming at a huge cost to the suffering patients, who expect to get healthcare service at national referral centres.
Doctors went on strike on Wednesday, citing government’s failure to honour its promises to improve their working conditions.
In response, government has threatened the striking doctors with dismissal. However, the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) has vowed to continue with their strike despite the threats with reports saying senior doctors have since joined the strike.
The ZHDA comprises mainly junior and middle-level doctors working in State-run hospitals.
With the doctors seemingly not cowed by the threats, the situation is bound to worsen before it gets any better. The earlier government listens to the doctors’ concerns, the better.
For a health sector grappling with myriad challenges, government should have allocated the Health ministry more resources in the national Budget.
Instead, government trimmed the health vote from $331 million to a measly $282 million in the budget statement presented last December.
Last year, major referral hospitals suspended many services as a result of the shortage of drugs, — exposing how much things have fallen apart in the country.
United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) and Harare Central Hospital among others 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, situated in one of Zimbabwe’s poorest regions, was last year forced to scale down its services due to water and electricity challenges.
If government does not urgently attend to doctors’ grievances, this places many people’s lives at stake because the doctors work in State health institutions, which serve the majority of Zimbabwe’s population.
Following another crippling strike two years ago, patients endured long queues while others were turned away as doctors staged a strike pressing for higher pay. The strike was only called off following government’s promise to review upwards basic salaries and housing allowances for doctors working in State-run hospitals.
Zimbabwe’s situation is made more peculiar because the elite seek medical treatment outside the country. Conditions at public medical institutions, therefore, are not an issue to them since they, including their families, travel outside the country for treatment.
Access to affordable healthcare is of paramount importance in any country wishing to raise its population’s living standards of which — if ignored — compromises the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.