By Columbus Mavhunga
Hospitals in Zimbabwe are turning away patients as a strike by doctors enters its sixth week. There is no end in sight to the strike, as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government says it cannot meet the doctors’ demands.
The Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, Zimbabwe’s largest treatment center, is largely empty as a doctors’ strike that began December 1 drags on.
Sixty-nine-year-old Kasirina Zibveka had a lung infection in September, according to her medical records. After numerous tests were done, it was confirmed that her right lung had gone bad and needed to be removed.
But by then, doctors were on strike. She was discharged December 13 and was told to return Monday for the ailing lung to be removed. But with the strike unresolved, that did not happen.
Her daughter, Margret Chikoti, says the family has paid for her treatment, but only nurses are attending to her mother.
“We have no idea what is really happening to her since December 13,” she said. “All we see is her discharging some blood stained stinking fluids [through a hole pierced by nurses under her right breast]. What is happening inside her body? Is it getting worse? We just give her painkillers and use ointment to clean her wound. We hope that their negotiations [doctors and government] bear fruit and they return to work.”
Doctors held a meeting Monday and resolved to remain on strike until their demands are met. The doctors want the government to equip hospitals with modern technology, sufficient medicine and protective clothing for doctors.
They also want to be paid in U.S. dollars instead of Zimbabwe’s depreciating currency, known as bondnotes.
“We will not accept the money that they are refusing. We want the money that buys,” Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association Vice President Marambire Sinaravo Jongwe said this to his members. “We are very understanding people, we are very lenient to our government. They are just trying to ignore us, they are very insincere to doctors. But yet we are saving the public, the general of Zimbabwe. For our patients we care, the government does not care.”
The doctors also say they do not want to prescribe drugs that are not in stock, a practice that forces patients to seek out black market drugs.
The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe has warned about such drugs being fake, expired and unsafe to use.
The government, meanwhile, said last week it is not in a position to pay doctors or any civil servants in U.S. dollars.
Officials say they have imported medicines and are now stocking hospitals. But with doctors still on strike, that news might not be enough to help patients like Kasirina Zibveka.