The two-and-a-half-month strike by junior and mid-level public health doctors has ended in Zimbabwe, although their demands have not been met. The doctors say they may resume the strike if the government does not meet their demands soon.
The doctors called off the strike Tuesday after accepting a salary increase of 250 percent, far below the 8,000 percent they were demanding. Zimbabwe has annual inflation of more than 600 percent, and the Zimbabwe dollar has lost more than 80 percent of its value in unofficial trading.
The spokesman for the striking doctors, Dr. Phibion Manyanga, says they decided to go back to work in the interest of their patients. And he says the doctors expect the government to further review their salaries.
"The figures are not what we wanted, but in the interest of patients we decided to go back and give the government two months to review our salaries to our expectations," he said. "So we expect that to be done by February."
Dr. Manyanga says the government offered new benefits to the doctors, which helped convince them to go back to work. He refused to elaborate on the nature of the new benefits.
The majority of the roughly 800 doctors employed by the government went on strike in October after reaching a deadlock on pay issues. A labor court ruled that the strike was illegal.
Zimbabwean law forbids medical staff and others classified as essential workers to go on strike. The doctors defied the court order, and seven of their leaders were arrested.
A magistrate acquitted all of them when they appeared in court.
Nurses also joined the doctors' industrial action. A spokesperson for the nurses is reported by the state-owned Herald daily newspaper to be asking them to return to work while negotiations for an increase continue.
During the past few years, Zimbabwe has lost many doctors and nurses to countries with better pay. Dr. Manyanga says more doctors left Zimbabwe during the strike.
"I would not have the accurate figures at the moment, because I am not sure whether those members who have not reported for work yet are still coming back or have left the country," he said. "But roughly they are in excess of thirty."
Since the strike began, a minimal staff of army doctors and nurses, and student nurses, staffed the hospitals. As a result, hospitals could only provide emergency services.
Since independence in 1980, the Zimbabwean government had built a healthcare system which was among the best in sub-Saharan Africa. But the system is on the verge of collapse, as the country grapples with the worst economic crisis in its history.