Doctors’ strike not sincere

By Shongedzai Mugwagwa

It is now more than 84 days since doctors went on strike protesting poor working conditions and remuneration.

Before the strike, Dr Peter Magombeyi, a former student activist at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), came into the picture with claims of abduction.

As police were investigating his whereabouts, opposition elements were already alleging that the State had a hand in his “abduction”.

Using his Twitter handle, MDC-Alliance co-vice president Tendai Biti alleged that the Government was behind Dr Magombeyi’s abduction.

A night vigil to pray for Dr Magombeyi’s safety was hastily organised on the night after his alleged abduction.

Questions were later asked from various quarters on the authenticity of Dr Magombeyi’s abduction claims.

While the doctors’ grievances were genuine, they ought to know that there are other workers in the country who are equally bearing the brunt of economic challenges facing the nation.

To let people die in hospitals because doctors want to be paid in foreign currency, which is not there, is unprecedented and against ethics of the medical profession.

One wonders if the Hippocratic Oath taken by the doctors has become a fun show after all.

Government has been sincere in its negotiations with the doctors and remains seized with the matter and many other issues affecting the country’s health sector, including lack of medicines and inadequate funding for public health centres.

Despite the sincerity of Government, the doctors have refused to go back to work, resulting in many lives that could have been saved being lost and this pushed Government to the laid down regulations and fired more 500 doctors following disciplinary hearings..

What is important to note is the fact that due processes were followed before arriving at the decision to fire the doctors.

It should be remembered that Government has been on a robust drive to revive the country’s health sector.

It is only the issue of doctors’ remuneration which is yet to be resolved despite offers from Government.

Interestingly, Zimbabwean business mogul, Strive Masiyiwa’s Higher Life Foundation surprisingly dangled an offer to the striking doctors. Instead for being appreciated for the good gesture that would have seen the end of the long strike by doctors, the ZHDA spanned the olive branch that had been extended to them.

Masiyiwa’s Foundation offered an extra ZWL$5,000 (US$310) monthly, smart phone, taxi ride from home, uniforms and diagnostic aides to the doctors.

Masiyiwa and his wife, Tsitsi, stressed that the offer was a “unilateral initiative” which it did not develop in consultation with the government or the doctors.

The ZWL$100 million “medical training completion fellowship” fund will cover up to 2,000 doctors – but they must be at work to benefit.

Interestingly, the doctors responded to the offer saying, “As such, it was concluded that, in as much as the support from HLF is welcome, it does not address completely the demands of the doctors for a salary whose value is preserved despite soaring inflation as well as the provision of adequate and appropriate tools of trade” reads the press release.

As if it was not enough, Catholic Bishops yesterday visited President Emmerson Mnangagwa at his State Residence where they convinced the President to give a 48 hour moratorium to all the striking doctors and those fired to return to work without reapplying.

Instead, junior doctors have vowed not to return to work despite the 48-hour moratorium given by President Mnangagwa and the incentives offered by Masiyiwa anticipated to commence in January 2020 arguing that both interventions do not preserve the value of their salaries nor guarantee provision of adequate tools of the trade.

In relation to the intervention by the Catholic Bishops and subsequent moratorium given by President Mnangagwa, the doctors said: “We appreciate the role played by the Catholic Bishops which has resulted in the doctors being issued a moratorium, valid for the next 48 hours. Sadly, the moratorium has come without a new offer on the table having communicated to us. Should this moratorium lapse without the formal communication of an offer that is reasonable, it would stand as yet another gracious privilege that is lost.”

Although doctors play a critical role in the provision of essential health services and are entitled to the right to fight for the improvement of their working conditions and salaries, some of their demands are out of sync with the situation on the ground.

Their demand is coming at a time when Government is grappling with foreign currency shortages as well as trying to contain its wage bill.

Some analysts have questioned the sincerity of doctors in wanting to resolve the matter and move forward given that Government has opened the door for continued negotiations for improved working conditions further to its offer.

The decision to defy the court ruling for doctors to return to work has left many wondering whether political sabotage was playing out in the matter as it appears there is an orchestrated agenda to halt business across the country’s health sector for nefarious agendas. This coupled with the fact that detractors are crowd-funding for doctors’ funds, leads to one conclusion, regime change agenda.