Things are going from bad to worse in Zimbabwe – with yesterday's devastating strike by doctors at the country's public hospitals being the latest problem to confront President Emmerson Mnangagwa's beleaguered government.
The strike has come on top of worsening foreign currency, fuel and medicines shortages in the country, as well as ever-rising prices of basic goods — which is making life more miserable by the day for long-suffering citizens.
So dire is the fuel situation in urban areas in particular, that hordes of desperate workers and other travellers are being left stranded on road sides, while motorists are resorting to parking their cars “permanently” at empty garages — hoping for chance deliveries of the now precious petrol and diesel.
At the same time, the Daily News learnt yesterday that the country’s major fuel companies are mulling selling their stocks in foreign currency in a bid to ensure some modicum of product supply.
This has come as most shops have increased the prices of their goods, in response to the shortages of foreign currency, the recent rise in the price of fuel and the worsening economic climate in the country.
And then comes the doctors’ strike, which saw most public hospitals yesterday being forced to turn away outpatients and to discharge those who were deemed to be in stable condition.
This prompted an irate middle-aged outpatient at Harare Central Hospital to describe the country’s current lot as a “total mess” when he spoke to the Daily News.
“I’m not well at all, but they have just told me that they are only attending to emergency cases, and I’ve no money to go to private clinics.
“We thought after Operation Restore Legacy (the military coup which toppled former president Robert Mugabe from power late last year) that things would improve in the country.
“But no, they are going from bad to worse — with no sign of getting better anytime soon. It’s a total mess,” the former teacher who did not wish to be identified said.
The striking doctors are protesting the severe shortages of pharmaceutical drugs at public hospitals — as well as the selling of available drugs in foreign currency by retail pharmacies, the poor state of the country’s hospital infrastructure and their “falling” salaries which they now want the government to pay in foreign currency.
In a circular released to heads of departments, United Bulawayo Hospitals clinical director Narcisius Dzvanga painted a desperate situation as the institution.
“Please be advised that there is another on-going industrial action by the JRM (junior resident medical practitioners) and SRMs (senior resident medical practitioners) at all the central hospitals since December 2, 2018.
“Management … recommends closure of the outpatients department till further notice, discharge all stable patients who are considered as safe on treatment as outpatients, casualty officers to admit patients to respective disciplines in liaison with teams on call and continue with emergency operations only,” Dzvanga said in his notice.
Similarly, Mpilo Central Hospital also shut its doors to general cases yesterday after its acting clinical director, Xolani Ndlovu, issued a circular directing the admission of emergency cases only.
This was the same case in Harare, where patients were affected similarly at Harare Central Hospital, Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and Chitungwiza Central Hospital.
On its part, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), said the industrial action was justified as standards in public hospitals had plummeted to unacceptable levels, while the government dithered about finding lasting solutions to the numerous problems being encountered.
ZADHR spokesperson Fortune Nyamande said doctors had been further annoyed by Ncube’s maiden budget which had fallen short of the sector’s expectations.
“We urge the government to urgently engage … with a view of finding an amicable solution … ZADHR will closely monitor the events and urges the State to respect the right to health for all Zimbabweans,” Nyamande said.
However, in Manicaland, Mutare Provincial Hospital appeared to be operating normally yesterday, with some of the doctors saying that they had not heeded calls for industrial action — due to “squabbles” within their association.
Zimbabwe’s health delivery system has for a while now been battling myriad problems, as a result of the country’s worsening economic climate.
In the past, major referral hospitals have had to suspend many services as a result of shortages of drugs, including painkillers.
At the peak of its economy, Zimbabwe made minimal imports of essential drugs due to the then healthy state of the local pharmaceutical industry which was dominated by CAPS Holdings.
But CAPS has been teetering on the brink of total collapse after it experienced serious financial problems about five years ago.
Meanwhile, sources told the Daily News yesterday that major fuel companies were planning to introduce prepaid foreign currency cards at their garages, if the regulatory authorities approved this emergency move.
The sources said the subject had already been broached with authorities by one of the companies, which has since issued a notice to introduce the prepaid forex card at all its service stations.
“The situation appeared to have improved at the weekend because many garages had received fuel, but since Sunday, we have been dry.
“The fuel supply situation is so desperate that we have received a notice about the impending introduction of a prepaid fuel card.
“Those with forex will pre-fund the card so that they are given priority whenever they want fuel.
“This will ensure that they get the fuel and it also means that local fuel companies will be able to get foreign currency to enable them to pay suppliers,” one of the sources said.
The Daily News reported authoritatively yesterday that fuel suppliers were refusing to release fuel to Zimbabwe until the government settled what it owed to them.
At the same time, the government announced on Friday that it had released an emergency $60 million for the procurement of fuel.
But this did not appear to sufficiently mitigate the situation — crippling commerce and industry, agriculture, transporters and private motorists in the country.
Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi also told this publication then that the government had secured enough stocks to last into the New Year, but that retailers had to pay upfront to have them at their garages.
Political analysts Dewa Mavhinga said government needed to act decisively on the continuing economic crisis to win back confidence of long-suffering Zimbabweans.
“Fuel shortages, foreign currency shortages and doctors’ strike confirm a political and economic crisis spiralling out of control. The government urgently needs to act decisively to win the confidence of its people and international investors to cure the current scepticism.
“The way in which ED (Mnangagwa) deals with the (Kgalema) Motlanthe Commission (of inquiry) and report may help build confidence. Propaganda no longer works, what is needed now is pragmatic action focussed on sincere nation- building and genuine dialogue across party lines,” Mavhinga said.