A staff member at the Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, March 23 2020. Doctors and nurses are refusing to work over the government's failure to provide protective equipment to guard them against the coronavirus. Picture: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA / AFP
A staff member at the Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, March 23 2020. Doctors and nurses are refusing to work over the government's failure to provide protective equipment to guard them against the coronavirus. Picture: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA / AFP

Harare — At a time when other countries are beefing up their fight against the coronavirus, Zimbabwe’s doctors, nurses and customs officials have downed tools over the government's failure to provide protective equipment to guard them against the virus.

The virus has killed one person out of the three cases confirmed by Zimbabwe's health ministry.

However, critics have accused the health ministry of underreporting cases and not being truthful about the country’s preparedness to combat the spread of Covid-19.

In a letter to the ministry seen by Business Day, Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association president Tawanda Zvakada said they had stopped reporting for duty after the government failed to respond to their request for protective equipment.

“Whilst you continue to run about putting things in place we would like to make it clear in no uncertain terms that our members will not be able to continue carrying out their duties with immediate effect.

“Any inconveniences caused regarding this position we have taken is sincerely regrettable but it was necessitated by a communication breakdown between the top management and front-line doctors,” he said.

Nurses also said they could not report for duty under the circumstances, as hospitals were ill-equipped to deal with the virus.

In a statement, the Zimbabwe Professional Nurses Union said: “We as nurses have agreed to withdraw our services forthwith. The umbrella body that represents all health workers (nurses included) gave the government a 48-hour ultimatum which has expired today.

“Zimbabwe Professional Nurses Union has urged all nurses to temporarily withdraw our services [until] our demands for personal protective clothing and equipment is availed (together with a) corona risk allowance and  sanitisers,” the union said.

Customs officials at the country’s main airport, the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare also stopped reporting for work on Wednesday, fearing exposure to the coronavirus and a lack of measures to prevent its spread.

Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis in a decade, with shortages of medicines and basic goods, skyrocketing inflation and corruption.

Over the past few years, the southern African country has failed to tackle diseases such as cholera and typhoid, leading to many deaths.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared a state of disaster over Covid-19 and banned public gatherings but overcrowding is still common as most people rely on informal jobs and vending at congested markets due to high unemployment.