Chenai Mutasa Post Correspondent
FOR the past 36 days, doctors in Zimbabwe have been on a crippling strike. This follows an impasse between the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) and Health Services Board (HSB).
The job action led to untold suffering of patients and citizens in general, as the health delivery system reached a state of paralysis.
The job action was despite efforts by Government to engage the doctors and persuade them to resume work while their grievances were being looked into. The doctors are so defiant and not open to dialogue.
They are so adamant that their demands should be met.
The doctors have not only shown their selfish side by refusing to offer their services while a permanent solution is being explored, but have also proved beyond doubt that there is more than meets the eye in their strike.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, during the recent State of the Nation Address (SONA) acknowledged that the country was facing serious challenges and rightfully pleaded for patience as efforts were being made to redress the issues.
He said: “I am aware of the pain being experienced by the poor and the marginalised. Fellow compatriots, getting the economy working again will require time, patience, unity of purpose and perseverance.”
It is important, at this critical juncture, that Zimbabweans from all sectors heed President Mnangagwa’s call for patience and unity of purpose as Government fixes the economy.
As also highlighted in the SONA, Government is implementing various measures to revitalise the referral system by upgrading medical infrastructure and equipment in clinics, district hospitals, provincial and central hospitals.
Through partnerships with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Government of India and other partners, Government is on a positive trajectory to modernise and revamp the health delivery system in the country.
Outside monetary incentives, these are some of the demands that the doctors want Government to address.
What has been worrying, however, is the politicisation of the industrial action. Doctors are pushing an ulterior motive meant to tarnish the image of the Government.
This is being done at a time when Government is making inroads in its engagement and re-engagement efforts.
The ZHDA, which is at the forefront of instigating the illegal job action, has been infiltrated by some elements with a nefarious political agenda.
These elements have political scores to settle.
For example, the ZHDA acting president Dr Peter Magombeyi, who made headlines over his alleged abduction, is a well known political aspirant. He is probably using the doctors’ cause to gain relevance and make a political name for himself.
Interesting to note also, is the involvement and participation of well known opportunists like lawyer-cum-human rights activist Mr Doug Coltart. Mr Coltart has a record of exploiting labour disputes in the country into a political weapon to attack and discredit the Government.
These activists take centre stage and limelight, and in the process, discredit genuine work-related concerns.
Doctors are not achieving anything by striking and withholding their services. They are sadly sacrificing the patients who require their service. The patients are at the receiving end.
Doctors should also be reminded that the current economic challenges have not spared anyone. The nation’s entire workforce is reeling under sky-rocketing prices of basic commodities, load-shedding and fuel shortages, among others. So, their cause is not really peculiar. We are all feeling the pinch, and envy for an improved economy and working conditions.
Their demands, though genuine, should not be allowed to cripple the country’s health sector. Their service is essential and needed by the common and most vulnerable person.
It is the duty of medical doctors to attend to patients all times, even under the worst of conditions. In the same vein, Government should also address their grievances urgently. Negotiations should be done in good faith, with each part sticking to its word.
A sick and divided nation has more damaging repercussions. The health ministry should make sure a common ground is forged, at the least convenient time.
We cannot afford another strike-induced death. No.
The ministry and its doctors owe it to the citizens. They exist to offer reliable service to those in need of it. We cannot continue having patients being turned away untreated at major hospitals. It is cruel to say the least.
This brings us to the proposed Health Services Amendment Bill that seeks to bar strikes in the health sector.
Given the current goings-on, we urge Government to fast track the proposed bill into law to avoid the unnecessary loss of lives.