First Lady-Doctors meeting: Details emerge

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GARIKAI FADZI

Junior doctors, whose strike entered Day 40 yesterday, say they sought audience with First Lady Auxilia Mnangagwa after their engagements with the Health Services Board, cabinet ministers and other senior government officials proved futile.

Fresh details of the meeting with the First Lady at Zimbabwe House last week have emerged, with reports that cabinet ministers were misleading the Presidium over the doctors’ issue hence the alternative to engage the First Lady.

The meeting, sources said, started around 9am, with the junior doctors initially feeling unstable, before the First Lady urged them to relax and be free to talk in what she termed a “frank discussion”

The minutes of the meeting seen by the Business Times reads in part: “Feel free to talk. Tell me. I am your mother and I am not a government employee. What I can only do is to listen and give you advice. Before you tell me your concerns, what I want you to know is that to be a doctor is not a job, but a calling.

Whether we have a problem or not, remember it’s a calling.” That is when the doctors said they sought an y-Doctors meeting: Details emerge audience with her after realising that cabinet ministers were misrepresenting their issues to the Presidium. One of the doctors then said: “We took the First Lady as an avenue to present our issues. It wasn’t meant to resolve the impasse, but for her to listen to us and present them to the Presidium.

We were not meeting directly with the Presidium, but through intermediaries. Moreover, there was no commitment from the Health Services Board to address our issues. For 34 days, we had met only three times yet there is a crisis in the country.”

The doctor said Vice President Chiwenga who was in charge of the negotiations was addressing wrong issues after being misled by the Health Services Board. The doctor said Chiwenga was only briefed about the doctor’s demand to be paid in US dollars, but other equally critical issues were ignored.

“We assumed they were pushing to have the Presidium to fire us. The Health Services Board took us to court and our strike was declared illegal. More than 570 of us were served with suspension letters. We were told that if we wanted to go back to work, we had to be subjected to a disciplinary hearing. We did not know how to go about it.”

Sources said initially, the doctors were divided over whether to go to State House or not. The meeting lasted for two hours with several issues addressed, including the shortage of drugs in hospitals among others. The doctors said they were not happy seeing patients dying due to the lack of drugs in hospitals.

Elias Muzorembwa, president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, is reported to have raised the issue of drugs, by saying: “The first issue is the inadequate drugs in the hospitals. We are tired of seeing people dying. We were told the drugs had arrived. But the distribution of the drugs is slow. They are still held up at NatPharm. Equipment at major hospitals such as Parirenyatwa needs to be sorted out. Most of it is obsolete. Last serviced in 2013. Morale is at an all time low. We need an increase on call allowance. Currently it is at $7,50. We want it to be at $22,50 per hour.”

Junior doctors are currently taking home $1,200 and they want 30% of it paid in US dollars.

The First Lady is said to have encouraged the doctors to look at other low-hanging fruits apart from salary increments, and the doctors agreed to her proposal.

The doctors then raised other issues such as duty-free vehicles given to them every five years, and the government defreezing posts for doctors graduating from university. They also demanded decent accommodation at their workplaces.

At the end of the meeting, the doctors clapped their hands for the First Lady and promised to go back to work after consulting their members.

Later in the day, at a meeting at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, senior doctors agreed to go back to work, but the juniors were reluctant.