Striking Zimbabwe doctors warn of ‘silent genocide’

Senior Zimbabwean doctors joined hundreds of junior colleagues in a mass walkout this week, warning of a “silent genocide” caused by dire conditions in hospitals.

The public sector doctors demanded the reinstatement of 440 junior colleagues, who were fired after downing tools in a pay dispute in September. It was unclear how many senior doctors had gone on strike.

A severe economic downturn has forced inflation to triple digits in Zimbabwe but salaries have failed to keep pace with price hikes, pushing many services beyond the reach of most people.

Doctors in the public health system say the value of their pay shrank more than 15-fold in the past year – a legacy of economic mismanagement under ex-president Robert Mugabe.

Many government workers – junior doctors among them – have stopped work because they cannot afford to commute.

Lacking basic equipment

In a letter dated Tuesday addressed to Zimbabwe’s largest hospital, the senior doctors who all work in the public sector said until all the fired doctors were reinstated, they would “no longer able to offer any emergency services”.

“We do not accept that one can be dismissed for being incapacitated to come to work in an unsafe environment,” the group said in a separate statement issued on Wednesday.

The doctors said hospitals were lacking basic equipment and staff, the situation becoming so bad that it amounted to “a silent genocide (which continues to be perpetrated upon the people of Zimbabwe”.

State hospitals cater for the majority of Zimbabweans who cannot afford private care.

Wealthier patients including top politicians usually seek care in neighbouring South Africa or Asian countries.

A senior doctor who asked for his name to be withheld told AFP the situation had become untenable.

“There is no public health in Zimbabwe at the moment, everything has come to a standstill, even those who were providing emergency services have given up,” said the doctor.