The government of Zimbabwe, in a conciliatory gesture, has agreed to talk to striking junior and mid-level doctors in an effort to resolve the doctors' grievance over pay.
Up to now, the government has refused to talk to the striking doctors until they go back to work. It maintained that, as essential workers, the doctors had no right to strike. The government changed its mind on Friday, and said it would negotiate with the doctors, but did not set a time for the talks.
The doctors went on strike last week after a number of attempts to get their salaries increased failed. Junior doctors are paid the equivalent of $460 per month, while their mid-level counterparts get $580. They are demanding a pay hike of at least 10,000 percent.
A spokesman for the striking doctors, Dr. Phibion Manyanga, said they will go into the negotiations with an open mind, but won't go back to work until an agreement has been reached. He said that more than three-quarters of the 800 or so doctors in the public sector are on strike, but more are joining in.
"The numbers are really varying, because there are some who were attending to emergencies who have since resolved to join the strike because they are being overworked," said Dr. Manyanga. "They thought, when they were working, the government would address [the salary dispute] urgently."
Nurses, who struck on Monday, have since then returned to work. The Independent, a Zimbabwean weekly newspaper, reported that the nurses agreed to an 800 percent pay raise.
To alleviate the health crisis, the government has sent army doctors to the hospitals, but Dr. Manyanga said that did not help much. He describes the situation in public hospitals as a shambles.
"Sometimes the patient just dies on your hands because you don't have the necessary equipment, you don't have the necessary drugs," he said.
Zimbabwe's health care system, once considered among the best in sub-Saharan Africa, is collapsing because of a severe shortage of money for medical equipment and essential drugs. Most of Zimbabwe's doctors, nurses and other health professionals are leaving Zimbabwe for countries offering better pay.