Doctors demand dissolution of Health Service Board
Andrew Kunambura and Idah Mhetu
ZIMBABWE doctors have vowed not to return to work unless government dissolves the Health Services Board (HSB), arguing it has failed to serve their interests.
This could put the country’s health delivery system into further turmoil following days of tension after industrial action by health workers, mainly doctors and nurses.
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (ZHDA) is blaming the HSB for the ongoing strike by doctors and other health practitioners.
They resorted to industrial action after government failed to pay their salaries on time. The salaries were due at the end of December but they received them on Tuesday this week.
Before that, government had said it would give the doctors US$2 and nurses US$1 per day to cover transport costs, a figure which they dismissed as an insult. The transport allowances were meant to cushion them until they received their delayed salaries.
On Tuesday, doctors and nurses associations issued a joint statement urging their members to remain on strike until government committed to their welfare, including disbanding HSB.
A visit to some government hospitals showed that some nurses had started reporting for duty, albeit with calls from their colleagues to stay at home.
There were long queues of patients seeking medical attention while only emergencies were being attended to at some hospitals.
There were also reports that admitted patients were being told that they had to wait for the strike to end for them to receive attention from the doctors.
HSB was created in 2005 following a 1997 presidential commission of inquiry, which recommended its establishment as a separate entity from the Civil Service Commission (CSC).
It was established only as a bridge to the setting up of a more effective health service commission, yet 11 years down the line, nothing of that sort has happened.
Before that, all health practitioners fell under the CSC to which they are now agitating to return because they allege the HSB has dismally failed.
“It has never been the intention of doctors to desert their patients and engage in the paralysing industrial action. But this is what you get when you get immature handling of doctors’ grievances particularly by the dysfunctional, bloated, corruption infested Health Services Board,” said Francis Rwodzi, spokesperson for ZHDA, describing the board as a huge, discredited national liability without any legitimacy.
“This dysfunctional board has overstayed its existence and grossly underperformed in executing its mandate. It is the rat in the health sector that daily erodes the motivation of our health workers and siphons the little funds availed by donors,” he charged.
“Government should immediately dissolve it because as a board that caters for health workers it is not doing anything. Life was better off when we were under the Civil Service Commission and now in the hands of the Health Services Board salaries no longer come on time
“The strike is going on until the government becomes sensitive to our issues as we stated in the press statement on Tuesday. As doctors we are saying ‘no money, no free health worker,’” he added.
He tore into Health and Child Care Minister, David Parirenyatwa (pictured), whom he said had not been willing to attend to their grievances.
According to statistics provided by Fortune Nyamande, ZHDA president, about 90 percent of doctors and 80 percent of nurses are on strike.
In their Tuesday joint statement, ZHDA and the Zimbabwe Nurses’ Association (ZINA) called upon those health workers still reporting for duty to join the strike.
HSB executive director, Ruth Kaseke, could not be reached for comment as she was said to have reportedly told staff that she did not want to be bothered by the Press.
Michael Sande, the board’s director for conditions of service and industrial relations, evaded questions by advising this newspaper to phone him later as he was going down the basement, after which his cellphone became unreachable.
Since late last year, doctors have not had the warmest of relations with the minister after they called on President Robert Mugabe to fire him following the scandalous exposure of an unprocedural payment he received from the ailing Premier Service Medical Aid Society for services he did not render.
Initially, Parirenyatwa explained the payment as capitation, which is equivalent to an advance payment, an explanation no one bought, but he was later reported to have returned the money.
Since then, the minister has retreated into his shell and has completely ignored the current health sector crisis.
And when the Financial Gazette sought his comment on Tuesday on the latest demands by doctors to dissolve HSB, he was unreachable.
Gerald Gwinji, permanent secretary in Parirenyatwa’s ministry, was said to be on leave.
ZINA spokesperson, Enoch Dongo, said nurses would not return to work until government fulfilled its promises.
“We cannot call it a strike but the nurses are financially crippled at the moment and cannot report to work every day; they have bills to pay. Already there are cases of nurses who have been evicted from their lodgings as a result of failure to pay their rentals.
“The government should come up with a proper date for our salaries and should let us budget our finances on our own not for them to budget for us. One dollar a day is not enough. One cannot live on a dollar and at the same time be able to travel to work.
“The government needs to remember that a nurse is supposed to have a psychological mindset for them to work normally, so how do they expect patients to survive if nurses are not there to treat them? The government should take these issues seriously because already the mortality rate has risen since Saturday when the strike started,” Dongo noted.
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