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Zimbabwe's Striking Hospital Doctors Reject Government Offer, Continue Action

Resident doctors in Zimbabwe's public hospitals said Friday that they will remain on strike despite a government promise to restore on-call allowances withdrawn last month by the state and international donor organizations funding restoration of the health system.

The Ministry of Health said the on-call allowances were discontinued in error, and promised that they will be restored in the next round of paychecks for medical staff.

But some senior doctors meanwhile joined junior doctors on strike at hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo, the country's second-largest city.

Negotiations continued among doctors, the Health Services Board and the United Nations Development Program, administrator of donor funding for the state health system.

U.N. Resident Representative Agostinho Zacharias said the UNDP is doing all it can to ensure funds are disbursed to pay for allowances that have not been paid out for some time.

Health Services Board Chairman Lovemore Mbengeranwa said his organization knows good salaries will help retain skilled doctors, but said big increases for now are not affordable.

The Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai issued a statement calling for the government to urgently increase doctor salaries. It said the country cannot afford to be without doctors given the risk of another cholera epidemic.

Cholera claimed some 4,288 lives between late 2008 and earlier this year.

Doctors speaking on condition of anonymity said they are making home visits and earning more than their official pay. Patients are paying doctors US$50 or more a visit.

Hospital Doctors Association President Brighton Chizhanje told reporter Sandra Nyaira that the labor action continues as the government has not tendered an acceptable offer.

South African-based Dr. Samukeliso Dube, a Zimbabwean, told reporter Brenda Moyo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that conditions in the country's state run health care system make it hard for doctors to adhere to their professional oath.

Sources at Harare hospitals said however that there are divisions within the Zimbabwe Doctor’s Association some of whose members are continuing their work saying they want to give the six-month-old unity government time to address their concerns.

Correspondent Sylvia Manika reported from Harare for VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe.

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