STRIKING nurses yesterday reacted angrily to Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s claim that they were using patients as pawns to fight for higher salaries.
The nurses, who have paralysed the country’s health delivery system after going on strike three months ago, said Chiwenga as the new Health minister should engage them and avoid being antagonistic.
Chiwenga on Monday declared that strikes would now be a thing of the past.
The mercurial VP, who once fired thousands of health workers in the past for engaging in a strike, also announced that the salaries for health workers “had been reviewed”, but refused to disclose the level of the increase.
“Nurses are not in any way using patients as pawns, but simply calling for a decent wage that can capacitate them to deliver high class healthcare to the general citizenry,” said Zimbabwe Professional Nurses Union secretary-general Douglas Chikobvu.
“Nurses are bio-psychosocial beings who can be affected negatively or positively by socioeconomic factors. We as nurses are calling on the government to address our plight to cushion us so that we can afford basic needs.
“Indeed, it is now three months down the rugged strike road with government ignoring the need to engage us as nurses.”
Chikobvu stressed that the poor remuneration they were receiving was taking a toll on their lives.
“A healthy workforce is the pride of the nation,” Chikobvu said.
“As nurses, we are not healthy at all given that we cannot afford a decent life. This affects nurses from all dimensions to deliver adequately on an empty stomach and overally cascades to the wellbeing of our daily living.
“We hope that our new minister will definitely understand our demands and address our plight with the urgency it deserves.”
Community Working Group on Health director Itai Rusike castigated government for grandstanding over nurses’ demands and urged President Emmerson Mnangagwa to appoint a minister solely responsible for the Health ministry.
“The Health ministry needs a full-time minister who is hands-on and with all hands on the deck as it is one of the most critical and demanding government departments dealing with life and death issues,” he said.
“The deplorable state of the country’s health delivery system and the prolonged industrial action by healthcare workers needs to be addressed by someone who is full-time and completely focused at Kaguvi Building without any divided attention.”
Rusike urged government to dump its combative stance on the striking nurses.
“The government should improve the real earnings … It is grossly unfair for government to pretend as if health workers’ demands are new or unreasonable when prices of basic commodities, transport, accommodation and the general cost of living have skyrocketed in the past few months,” he said.
“This is not the first time health workers have raised the salaries issue, with the government always promising to address them. But once they return to work, their problems are never looked into.”