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Doctors Strike in Zimbabwe - 2002-07-29

In Zimbabwe, hundreds of doctors at state hospitals have gone on strike because they say promises of better pay dating back eight years have not been met.

The president of the Hospital Doctors Association, Howard Mutsando, said striking doctors repeatedly had been promised that their salaries and overtime pay would be adjusted.

He said the dispute has gone on since 1996, but nothing has materialized.

The doctors went on a short strike in March, but went back to work after government assurances their pay would be adjusted.

The doctors earn 53,000 Zimbabwe dollars a month. At the official exchange rate, that is $963 U.S. But in reality, because there is no foreign currency in Zimbabwe, the pay is only about $83 U.S. a month.

Zimbabwe's inflation rate is about 123 percent.

State doctors are paid overtime only up to the equivalent of their monthly salary, which comes to four shifts a month. Dr. Mutsando said that because of a doctor shortage, the doctors regularly work 12 shifts a month.

He said he began working for the Zimbabwe government in 2001. He said that of 87 graduates in his group, 25 from Harare alone have already left for Britain and South Africa. He said another ten are leaving in September and the rest are trying to make plans to leave the country.

He said none of the doctors really wants to leave Zimbabwe. He said they are forced to go in order to earn enough money.

Zimbabwe has imported about 170 doctors from Cuba to help deal with the doctor shortage. However, medical colleagues say the Cubans are not always able to manage surgical demands in Zimbabwe, and many cannot speak English which makes their consultations difficult.

Zimbabwe's deputy minister of health, David Parirenyatwa, said Monday he is making plans to meet the striking doctors and solve the problem.

The near collapse of the state health sector is not confined to doctors. Hundreds of nurses, dentists, and pharmacists have also left the country.

A non-governmental health organization said Monday that many rural clinics in Zimbabwe have no medicines at all. Striking doctors said that even at the country's main city hospitals, many basic medical supplies are either in short supply or not available.