State doctors in Zimbabwe have ended a walkout which had paralyzed hospitals across the African country for three weeks.
A union leader said Monday that the strike was ended “on compassionate grounds” after negotiations with the cash-strapped government in Harare stalled.
“We have resumed our duties. All the doctors are back at work,” said Edgar Munatsi, president of the Hospital Doctors Association, adding, “We came to the decision on compassionate grounds after our meeting with the government failed to address our grievances.”
The strike began in mid-February when hospitals suspended admissions. Nurses then joined the action, forcing healthcare centers to clear wards from patients and turn away non-critical casualty cases.
Majority of Zimbabweans refer to state hospitals for receiving medical care as many cannot afford private hospitals. Zimbabwe, once known for its advanced healthcare system among African countries, has faced increasing difficulties in providing medical services as many professionals have left during the country’s economic crisis over the past 15 years.
The recent strike affected hospitals in various cities. Witnesses said last week that most wards in Harare’s Parirenyatwa hospital, Zimbabwe’s largest medical center, were empty while a small number of senior doctors attended to patients at Mpilo Hospital in the second city of Bulawayo.
“We were moved by the plight of the suffering patients. The mortality rate in the hospitals was going up and it appeared the government was not concerned,” said Munatsi after declaring that the strike was ended. He did not elaborate on the mortality rate. There was no comment from the government on the issue either.
The strike mainly centered on demands for higher allowances and job guarantees for junior doctors. Local media said the government had agreed to increase some allowances for medical staff.
Facing increasing economic difficulties, President Robert Mugabe’s administration has been struggling to pay civil servants and soldiers on time.
The 93-year-old president returned this week from Singapore where he regularly visits to receive medical care.
Other workers in the public sector have also planned similar walkouts, but a strike scheduled to start on Monday over pay was postponed by organizers.
Zimbabwe saw a series of street protests in Harare last year over the country’s dire economic situation. The demonstrations were met with a heavy police response.