Zimbabwean doctors at public hospitals went on strike for the second time this year to demand better pay and conditions, a union official said, as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government struggles with a deteriorating economy.
The southern African nation is short of US dollars, the currency it adopted in 2009, causing price spikes and shortages of basic goods, medicines and fuel.
Mathabisi Bebhe, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association which represents more than 1,000 members, said most junior doctors at five major hospitals downed tools to protest over pay, allowances and drug shortages.
More than half of public sector doctors joined the indefinite strike, he said.
With hospitals short of drugs and reliant on patients to buy them, local pharmacies are no longer accepting insurance policies for purchases, demanding US dollars in cash. When using bank cards, prices are at least three times higher.
“We are understaffed and underpaid and there are no medications in hospitals,” Bebhe said.
“We are hopeful government will intervene as early as possible. The duration of the industrial action depends on when government gives a proper practical solution.”
Health Minister Obadiah Moyo could not be reached for comment. Government previously said doctors should present their grievances while at work and relies on military doctors to help at state hospitals during strikes.
At United Bulawayo Hospitals in Bulawayo, senior doctors were only seeing emergency cases after closing the outpatient department, a notice to staff said.
In March, doctors went on strike and won an increase in pay and allowances, ending the first major labour dispute Mnangagwa faced since taking power.
Doctors are still struggling to survive, Bebhe said, after prices of basic goods rose by at least 300% since October. Annual inflation was 20.85% that month, the first time it hit double digits in a decade.
Doctors, who earn a basic monthly salary of about $385 before allowances, want government to raise on-call allowances by 25% to $10 an hour paid in cash.