Doctors protest in Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Doctors protest in Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Specialist senior doctors, who are helping keep public hospitals running during the two-month strike by junior doctors, have themselves decided to join in the stay away in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s public health centres are facing collapse after the specialist senior doctors said on Tuesday that they would stop attending to emergencies in solidarity with the 500 doctors who were sacked by the government for joining the strike.

The country is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, with public-sector workers saying they cannot even afford transport to go to work. Nurses are now working a three-day week, citing poor salaries.

The government said that in November it had doubled doctors’ salaries to about ZWL2,000 ($130), but the doctors want their pay  to be pegged to the US dollar to stop their earnings being eroded by inflation. At more than 300%, Zimbabwe's inflation is the second highest in the world after Venezuela.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA) said its members have agreed to stop going to work. “We have noted with grave concern the wanton dismissal of more than 435 doctors, the continued summoning of doctors for disciplinary hearings, and the withholding of the paltry salaries for the doctors,” the union said.

The decision to fire doctors “had not capacitated either the hospitals themselves or the human resource base”, the SHDA said.

“We regret to inform you that the SHDA has agreed with its members, who had remained behind offering emergency services to the hospitals, that we are no longer able to offer any emergency services as from 2pm on November 26 2019, until all the fired doctors are reinstated and there is adequate redressal of their incapacities,” the SHDA said in a letter to the clinical director of the Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals — the biggest referral group of hospitals in the country.

The doctors defied a court ruling in October saying that their action was illegal and they should return to work.

Zimbabweans are bearing the brunt of the worst economic downturn in a decade, with shortages of foreign currency, fuel, basic foodstuffs, electricity and medicines. The crisis has been worsened by a drought that has left more than half the population in need of food aid and forced the government to scramble for scarce dollars to import grain.