Saturday, March 10, 2018

A doctor’s view on the strike: We are in a difficult position

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ON March 1, 2018, Zimbabwe’s government doctors embarked on yet another industrial action.
By Benson Mudiwa
Doctor strikes in Zimbabwe have become commonplace. It is worrying, especially because if one looks at the demands the doctors are making, you can’t help, but cringe at the government’s perennial inability to settle their issues once and for all.
Sincerely speaking, the government has more than enough capacity to meet these demands and allow doctors to provide adequate healthcare to the inhabitants of this beautiful nation.
You will recall that four years ago, doctors went on a similar job action, which ended after the government had promised to honour some of the demands and reached a compromise that was acceptable to the doctors.
It’s sad to note, however, that until now, the government is yet to fulfil these pledges.
Among the assurances the employer has reneged on was the issuance of a $720 per month “on call” allowance at a rate of $10 per hour, assuming doctors work 72 hours’ overtime per month.
The government is currently giving a pittance $1,50 per hour for 72 hours’ overtime in this regard, prompting people of late to jokingly advise doctors to consider other professions like vending, as vendors could be earning more than this abusive $1,50 per hour in overtime.
Also, realistically and on the ground, obtaining due to severe understaffing, the average doctor works much more than 72 hours’ overtime with some, particularly in the rural areas, working 24 hours a day, for 30 days a month.
This is happening and is not an exaggeration.
So the $720 per month, which was agreed on, was a huge compromise.
Also, owing to the severe understaffing, it became necessary to ask doctors, who are off duty, to return to work and alleviate the shortage, this is termed a locum.
The government agreed to pay these locums at the normal rate of $10 per hour, and medical practitioners, due to their precarious financial situation, would, therefore, begrudgingly take on these locums to earn an extra buck.
But since October 2017, the government has not been paying these locums, only for the Salary Service Bureau in February 2018 to arrogantly declare that they would not pay for locums worked for without proffering any explanation.
Doctors then approached the government, asking them to stipulate their vague working hours with the intention of only working the stipulated working hours and stop doing these locums that were no longer being paid, but the employer has dragged its feet and till now this has not been resolved.
This has necessitated doctors to demand an end to this modern-day slavery by paying the locums that their constituents have enduringly worked for and also provide doctors across the board and at different levels with a specification of the expected working hours.
I will not dwell much on the demand for the reinstatement of the suspended duty-free facility, which had previously allowed doctors to import a vehicle of not more than $5 000 duty-free, but it will suffice to say that it is essential that a doctor be able to fleetly be at work at all hours, so as to urgently help patients
Lastly, and most importantly, it is disheartening to note that hospitals lack the necessary sundries and drugs to help doctors carry out their jobs.
Stocks are at an all-time low.
Patients needing surgery are needlessly having their theatre time cancelled, patients are being sent home without prescribed medications, as government pharmacies don’t have them, and some needing life-saving therapy have no option, but to seek it in expensive private facilities well out of reach of the majority of the populace.
This in itself is a direct denial to a person’s right to health as enshrined in the Bill of Rights and unfortunately, most of these patients, who are our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers don’t live to fight another day as a result of these prevailing conditions.
Doctors are advocating, therefore, as part of their demands, that this situation be addressed, as it is now gravely untenable.
It is our hope that the warring parties reach an amicable solution expeditiously, which will see doctors return to work and prevent unnecessary further loss of life.
Benson Mudiwa is a general practitioner, trained in Zimbabwe and has worked at Harare Central Hospital and Musiso Hospital in Zaka, Zimbabwe. He is currently based in Swaziland and writes in his personal capacity.