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Nurses, Doctors Strike for Higher Pay in Zimbabwe - 2003-10-28

Nurses at Zimbabwe's largest hospitals have joined junior and mid-level doctors in a strike for more money.

The decision to join the doctors was reached by the nurses' unions at a meeting on Monday.

The nurses complain that the government had not responded to their pay proposals from the previous year. They told the state-owned Herald newspaper that they would not go back to work until they get a response.

The Herald reports that the nurses are paid the equivalent of $168-$270 a month at the official exchange rate. But it is worth seven times less than that at the street value of the Zimbabwean dollar at which everything is being priced.

The doctors have vowed to continue their strike until their pay demands for a minimum 10,000 percent increase are met. Junior doctors are currently paid $460, while their mid-level counterparts get $580 a month at the official exchange rate.

They told The Herald that they were still to get feedback from the government after a meeting they held last month.

Minister of Health Dr. David Parirenyatwa called the doctors' job action illegal and unethical. He told the government-controlled Sunday Mail that the doctors were demanding a black-market salary.

A senior doctor who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity said there was only a skeleton staff and student nurses at one of the country's leading hospitals. The doctor said the emergency section of the hospital was closed and those who can afford it are going to private hospitals.

Zimbabwe's health care system is under severe strain, as the country experiences a worsening shortage of foreign currency to buy essential drugs. Doctors, nurses and other health professionals are leaving Zimbabwe in large numbers in search of better pay abroad.