Zimbabwe doctors strike over pay, paralyse hospitals

HARARE – Zimbabwe's state doctors have gone on strike to press for an increase in wages and allowances, the health workers' union said on Wednesday, paralysing major hospitals recovering from last year's economic collapse.

The southern African country’s health sector imploded under the burden of a severe economic crisis and hyperinflation, leaving Zimbabwe unable to deal with a cholera outbreak that killed nearly 5,000 people from over 98,000 cases.

Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (HDA) said doctors had walked out of the country’s four major hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo after inconclusive negotiations with the authorities.

"The industrial action has spread to all central hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo," HDA President Brighton Chizhanje, whose union represents all state doctors, told Reuters.

"We are looking for a situation where government pays salaries above $1,000 and $500 in allowances. The current flat $170 they are paying is inadequate and has no provision for on-call allowances, transport and housing allowances."

Chizhanje said that any extended doctors’ strike risked reversing the small gains made in reviving state hospitals.

"We are concerned about the lack of seriousness and prioritisation of the health sector. We wouldn’t want to go back to last year’s situation where all major hospitals were forced to shut down and turn away patients," he said.

The Health Ministry was not immediately available to comment.

Zimbabwe’s new unity government, formed by rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in February, adopted the use of multiple currencies after hyperinflation decimated the local currency.

Although the currency switch and other economic reforms have breathed life into the economy, the government, which says it needs about $8.3 billion for reconstruction, has struggled to attract significant external financial aid.

Key Western governments, which have imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle, have withheld support until he implements more political and economic reforms.

Mugabe this week said Zimbabwe could reconsider its ties with the West, which he accuses of seeking to divide the unity government.

Although Mugabe continues to blame the West for Zimbabwe’s economic woes, his coalition partner Tsvangirai, who went on a three-week tour of Europe and the United States, has been pushing for the full restoration of ties.