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Doctors Urge Loud and Clear Condemnation of Zimbabwe Human Rights Abuses

A group of doctors from South Africa and Uganda say international medical organizations must "loudly and clearly" condemn human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Their comments appear on the website of the British Medical Journal, BMJ.Com.

The doctors say, "The people of Zimbabwe deserve the support of those who claim to uphold the traditions and healing and caring.

One of the authors of the article is Dr. Dan Ncayiyana, editor of the South African Medical Journal and professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at the Durban University of Technology. From Durban, he told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua why international medical organizations should speak out on Zimbabwe.

"I think it is the job of international medical organizations because the issues involved are human rights issues. And the medical fraternity across the world ought to be concerned about issues relating to human rights," he says.

Speaking about the situation in Zimbabwe, Dr. Ncayiyana says, "Conditions in Zimbabwe are hellish at the moment. And the human rights group (Zimbabwean Association of Doctors for Human Rights)…reports that hospitals are overwhelmed by victims of violence by police, and the army and militia."

The BMJ editorial describes Zimbabwe's health care system as being in "shambles," after once being rated one of the best on the continent. Dr. Ncayiyana says, "There's been an exodus of health care providers, professionals, from Zimbabwe.… The other issue is that of a shortage of supplies. The hospitals simply don't have the equipment and supplies to take care of sick people, whether they are victims of violence or not." He adds that there is also a lack of adequate transportation to take sick people to hospitals.

Asked why the medical profession would be upholding the tradition of healing by taking on human rights issues in Zimbabwe, he says, "I believe that buried somewhere in the Hippocratic Oath is an undertaking to care about how people are treated around the world. You know, the WHO (World Health organization) defines health as not only the absence of infirmities, but well-being, the general well-being. And abuse of people actually undermines that well-being and causes disease because it causes people to suffer and die. And just as much as we as a medical profession strive to prevent diseases like polio and so on, we should also be committed to preventing human abuses that in fact affect peoples' lives and health."

The BMJ editorial also calls the Zimbabwean Association of Doctors for Human Rights the "moral conscience" of the medical profession, praising it for standing up to the government of President Mugabe.

"I think that the medical profession should be the moral conscience of society when it comes to human rights as they affect people's health and well-being. And of course health in general because that's what our calling is. Our calling is to promote the best possible health condition for our people," he says.