Doctors suspended over constitutional protest

By Pretty Chavango
In a country which has been squeezed almost dry of health professionals, with most having moved to greener pastures, Zimbabwe’s health service is in a poor state with the poor being most affected as public hospitals seem to have emptied their cabinets to private health institutions. In such a state when you hear that more doctors have been put out of action the feeling goes from bleak to despair.
Recently members of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctor’s Association (ZHDA) executive were suspended on allegations of misconduct. The executive which was suspended comprised of four doctors namely its President Fortune Nyamande, Dr Hugh Manyere, Dr F Gadzirai, Edson Makoni and Dr Rusununguko Kanyongo, who mandated to protect the welfare of doctors employed by Government, face suspension for three months for allegedly spearheading a 17-day strike by the doctors in 2014 as well as issuing malicious statements thereafter.
For me the part which really sticks out is that the strike was in 2014! It took 2 years for the justice system to act on this issue and while l believe that health care givers play a crucial role which involves human life and should never resort to striking at the expense of their patients , their situation is rather pathetic (among everything else ) and at some point something just has to give .
The Constitution of Zimbabwe stipulates that the state must take all practical measures to ensure the provision of basic, accessible and adequate health services throughout Zimbabwe (Chapter 2:29{1}). The health services board then saw it fit to suspend these doctors, just imagine a scenario where all unpaid health workers go on strike – what then?
Doctors in Zimbabwe are earning paltry salaries, work in poor conditions using outdated machinery and due to the brain drain have an excess doctors/patient ratio and yet are gagged from protesting .
Director of Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) Mr Itai Rusike had this to say, “While there could be legal basis for the Health Services Board, being the employer, to institute such actions, the CWGH believes the suspensions will neither address problems affecting the doctors nor boost the morale of the employees which is a critical component in health delivery. We strongly believe that dialogue is critical for the public health system to remain functional especially in the absence of adequate funding from government.” In a message sent out by the ZHDA prior to the strike in 2014 the executive complained about their profession being disregarded shown by their poor enumeration (USD$282) and called for a strike, part of the message read,
“ 1. Doctors through the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association have lost confidence that the government has any concrete, verifiable and practical plans to review our working conditions as highlighted in the ultimatum send to them.
2. According to section 65 subsection 2 and subsection 3 of the New Zimbabwean Constitution, doctors like any other Zimbabwean are allowed participating in industrial action.
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association has been directed by its members to call for a peaceful nationwide strike by doctors beginning Monday 27 October 2014 as a response to the laxity shown by government to address our concerns. This strike shall only be called off if our demands are met through a written formal communication by the employer: the demands as stated earlier in the petition dated 03 October 2014.”

Doctors Strike
Artists depiction of Doctors striking
Threats to again down tools where echoed earlier this year after doctors among other civil servants failed to get their bonuses.
Nearly 90% of the 13 million people in Zimbabwe depend on the underfunded and under- staffed public health system and neither continuous strikes nor suspension of employees who try to get their voices heard will save lives.
The ordinary person bears the effect of such decisions which threaten their right to health. Today medical student go through their 5 years of medical school without much faith in what they are getting themselves into, young people as such become molded to believe that the best solution is to source greener pastures and not give back to their communities further widening the brain drain.

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