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Doctors’ strike slows health delivery in Zimbabwe referral hospitals

by Tichaona Chifamba HARARE Zimbabwe (Xinhua) -- The provision of health services at public hospitals has been severely affected by a strike by junior doctors which entered its fourth day Tuesday.

The doctors went on strike Saturday citing several challenges, among them unsatisfactory working conditions, low salaries and lack of basic medicines and equipment.

At least one referral hospital in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe, has recommended the closure of some of its departments as a strike by junior doctors at public health institutions entered the fourth day.

A memorandum from the directorate of clinical services at United Bulawayo Hospitals to all heads of department recommended the closure of the outpatients department till further notice and to continue with emergency operations only.

The memorandum, a copy of which was seen by Xinhua, also recommended the discharge of stable patients who were considered safe on treatment as outpatients and that casualty officers should admit patients in liaison with teams on call.

"Management appreciates the burden on the middle-level House Medical Officers/ Senior Registrars and consultants as well as the need for the continued care for the critically ill patients," the memorandum said.

A statement from the doctors’ representative body, the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, said Tuesday that the strike was continuing and accused Health and Child Care Minister Obadiah Moyo of exhibiting an "I don’t care" attitude towards their grievances.

"All central hospitals in the country are now operating at very low capacity.

"There is fear that if immediate and robust interventions are not done to address the crisis, all public health institutions might collapse," the association’s information department said in a statement.

A source at the country’s biggest health referral center, Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, told Xinhua that the junior doctors had not yet returned to work by 11.00 a.m. Tuesday, although the casualty (outpatients) department was open.

"Only senior doctors are working here," he said.

Another source at Chitungwiza General Hospital, south of Harare, said the doctors were still on strike but the casualty department remained open.

The government on Monday urged striking doctors to go back to work while it was looking into their grievances.

Health and Child Care Minister Obadiah Moyo told the Herald newspaper that the strike was illegal.

"The junior doctors embarked on industrial action, but this is illegal.

"They should have gone through a process of notifying the Health Services Board and making sure that everyone is aware, unfortunately that wasn’t done.

He said the government had decided to look into their grievances, especially those which it could resolve as a ministry starting with the availability of fuel and also improving the possibility of doctors arriving at work on time.

Moyo said one of the drawbacks was that of fuel and the government was making arrangements for it to be availed.

"I have given an instruction that all the health institutions which have got petrol and diesel tanks should have them filled. I am going to be negotiating with the Minister of Energy to make sure that fuel is made available at all the health institutions.

"We also look at petrol stations where we can make arrangements for our doctors to be given priority to draw fuel, so that they don’t spend the whole day in the queue.

"We want them to be working on the patients rather than being in the queues," he said.

The country is experiencing fuel shortages which have resulted in a lot of productive time being lost as motorists spend it queuing at filling stations.

Moyo said the payment of doctors in U.S. dollars as per their demand was not possible at the moment.

"There is no foreign currency in the country to buy medicines for use in hospitals, and that particular aspect of paying individuals in U.S. dollars is not possible.

"The President has been encouraging the pharmacists to sell drugs in local currency because there is no foreign currency.

"People cannot get foreign currency." he said.

Junior doctors also went on strike early in the year citing the same reasons, leading to the disruption of services at almost all central and provincial hospitals.


Zimbabwe struggling to import medicines due to forex shortages

HARARE Zimbabwe (Xinhua) -- Zimbabwe’s pharmaceutical sector said Wednesday it is struggling to import critical medical drugs due to the ongoing shortage of foreign currency.

Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe president Portifa Mwendera told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Welfare that the sector owes foreign medicine suppliers 38 million U.S. dollars, up from 13 million in October last year.

He said due to their inability to pay, foreign suppliers were now demanding cash up front, forcing retail pharmacies to also charge their products in U.S. dollars.

"What has happened with new trade terms is that some suppliers have actually asked for cash upfront for any deliveries into Zimbabwe," Mwendera said.

"So you then find retailers asking the public to provide that foreign currency so that we pay for the products to get into Zimbabwe."

He said the country was faced with a public health crisis due to the shortage of medical drugs.

"The crisis that we are in is critical in that we are already noticing shortages of some main line medicines," Mwendera said.

"We have shortages for painkillers, anti-diabetes medicines.

"We also have for those stocks that are available, limited supply for about three weeks to a month or so of stocks that are in the suppliers’ warehouses," he said.

He said the crisis had been worsened by the reluctance by foreign suppliers to continue providing medication on credit.

In September, the country imported about 6.8 million dollars worth of medical drugs from India and in October the figure fell down to about 1.6 million dollars, he said.

"November was a very sad story and December we do not know if we will be able to import anything because as long we do not have any funds to pay for the new consignment or to service the debt, it will be a difficult position," he said.

Mwendera urged the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to speed up and increase foreign currency allocation to enable the sector to import medicines.


Zimbabwe’s largest food manufacturers forced to shut down
its two wholesale mills due to foreign currency shortages

HARARE Zimbabwe (Xinhua) -- One of Zimbabwe’s largest food manufacturers, National Foods, announced Tuesday that it will shut down its two mills due to foreign currency shortages.

The indefinite shutdown is expected to affect the supply of bread whose price recently went up from 1.10 U.S. dollars for a standard loaf to about 1.50 dollars as bakers cite high cost of raw materials.

In a letter to its customers dated Dec. 3, the company said it has been facing difficulties in settling its foreign wheat suppliers due to the foreign currency shortages.

"Due to delays in repatriating payments to our foreign wheat suppliers, our wheat suppliers have today (Monday) instructed National Foods to cease draw down of wheat stocks.

"National Foods will mill out the wheat in process and we anticipate both our mills in Harare and Bulawayo to close on Wednesday 5th December," the company’s chief executive Michael Lashbrook said.

The company warned that unless the payment situation is rectified, it expects to be out of stock of baking flour later this week.

"National Foods continues to work with the authorities to resolve this foreign payment issue.

"We would like to reassure you that we have a full pipeline of both imported and local wheat booked and that once payment is made we will immediately restart milling operations," Lashbrook said.

Zimbabwe’s crippling foreign currency shortages have resulted in shortages of critical imports such as fuel and medical drugs.

Motorists are spending hours on end queuing up at pump stations to get the scarce commodity while junior doctors at the country’s referral hospitals have gone on strike demanding payment of their salaries in U.S. dollars, among other things.

This is the second strike by the doctors this year alone.

Zimbabwe President warns businesses against pricing in foreign currency

HARARE Zimbabwe (Xinhua) -- Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said his government is crafting a law that compels business people who receive foreign currency allocation from Treasury to charge their products in local currency.

Further, the government will revoke licenses of such business people with immediate effect if they fail to comply, the Herald newspaper reported Tuesday.

Addressing traditional chiefs during the official opening of the 2018 Annual Chiefs Conference in Kadoma on Monday, Mnangagwa said it was important for government to engage the business more often.

"We are now crafting a law that ensures that all products purchased from outside the country using foreign currency from Treasury should not be charged in foreign currency," he said.

Zimbabwean firms urged to discard old equipment

HARARE Zimbabwe (Xinhua) -- Zimbabwean companies have been urged to discard obsolete equipment, some commissioned during the World War II, and invest in new, cutting-edge equipment to improve production efficiency.

Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Development Minister Amon Murwira said the companies must not waste resources trying to resuscitate the old and dilapidated machines but should replace them with new equipment, the Herald newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Most of Zimbabwe’s companies are operating obsolete equipment which results in production inefficiencies and lack of competitiveness.

The ongoing shortage of lines of credit in the country has seen many companies failing to retool and acquire latest technology and equipment.

Zimbabwe capital on high alert after cholera outbreak reported in Mount Darwin

HARARE Zimbabwe (Xinhua) -- Zimbabwe’s capital Harare said Tuesday it is on high alert after a cholera outbreak has been reported in Mt Darwin, about 180 km northeast of Harare.

The outbreak that was reported last week has so far killed three people and infected 194 others.

The capital city has been hit by frequent cholera outbreaks due to poor sanitation and water, with the recent one which eventually spread to other parts of the country in September killing at least 50 people and infecting more than 10,000 others.

Harare City town clerk Hosiah Chisango was quoted by the Herald newspaper as saying that it had activated its health teams to deal with any possible cases since most people always travel to the capital.

"We continue to hear some cholera cases being reported across the country in places such as Mt Darwin, Chipinge and others.

"We are aware that most of the traffic ends up in Harare as the capital.

"As a city, our water, sanitation, and hygiene and health teams are always activated and on high alert so that we are able to respond to any cases," Chisango said.

The cholera outbreak in Mt Darwin has been reported from an artisanal mining area in the town.


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