Statement on the Collapse of the Health System And Withdrawal of Labour by the Doctors in Zimbabwe

  • The real crisis is the state of the Public Health System
  • The demands by the doctors are legitimate
  • The right to access basic health care is severely undermined
  • The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission must investigate

Zimbabwe has been plunged into a major health crisis following the revelation that the country’s health system is in a coma due to non-attention by government to key essential health priorities. This situation has been exacerbated by the withdrawal of labour by the medical practitioners at government health facilities across the country since the 1st of December 2018. The medical practitioners are protesting this state of affairs and are pushing for a review of their conditions of service. The doctors want the government to invest in health facilities to ensure that they are able to safely and effectively serve the country’s needs without endangering the patients or themselves. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) and the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) are greatly disturbed by this situation which goes to the core of the right to life which is guaranteed by section 48 of the Zimbabwean Constitution, as well as the right to basic health care which is guaranteed by section 76 of the Constitution.

The tragedy of this matter is not that the doctors have gone on strike, but rather, the state of health care facilities, infrastructure and the conditions of service for health care personnel, which make it impossible for the people of Zimbabwe to enjoy the right to basic health care, as enshrined in the constitution.

The medical practitioners who serve government health facilities are disgruntled and protesting poor health facilities including unavailability of pharmaceutical drugs, lack of protective equipment; and the erosion of their salaries due to hyperinflation. In a callous display of insensitivity to the plight of the people who are affected by this state of affairs, the government decided to fire the over 500 medical practitioners who are involved in the industrial action, apparently under the mistaken belief that they were firing students. This has triggered an outcry from senior doctors and consultants who have threatened to join in the strike in support of the demands by the medical practitioners.

The Forum and ZADHR consider the demands by medical practitioners to be legitimate and in line with the legitimate expectations of any citizen who expects to enjoy the right to health which is key to the enjoyment of the right to life. The demands by the medical doctors must indeed be the demands and expectations of every citizen of Zimbabwe.

The Forum and ZADHR remind the Government of Zimbabwe that it is the obligation of the Government to ensure that every Zimbabwean should be able to access basic healthcare. The failure by the Government to address the concerns of the doctors infringes upon the basic right to health care (Section 76) that every citizen or permanent resident of Zimbabwean seeking medical services must be able access (Section 76:1).

The Forum and ZADHR highlight that those who are greatly affected by this state of affairs are not doctors or government officials but the ordinary citizens reliant on the government to not only resolve the strike but provide adequate access to health care including ensuring availability of affordable pharmaceutical drugs. Government officials, who are notorious for flying out to neighboring countries for health care, may find it difficult to appreciate the importance of attending to the issues raised by the medical practitioners.

The Forum and ZADHR thus recommend the following:

For the government of Zimbabwe to:

1. Protect the right to health through attending to the issues raised by the medical practitioners with immediate effect
2. Initiate an emergency health system resuscitation plan to ensure that the country’s health facilities are equipped with all the necessary facilities including equipment, drugs and protective clothing for personnel working in the health sector
3. Develop a sustainable health care reform strategy to ensure that every Zimbabwean enjoys the right to basic health care as enshrined in the Constitution.
4. Develop a conflict transformation strategy for government in dealing with grievances to avoid disastrous unilateral approach to conflict as witnessed in handling the strike by medical practitioners.

For the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission:

5. In its capacity as the public protector, carry out a thorough investigation into the state of health care in Zimbabwe clearly documenting the full effect on the enjoyment of the right to health and the right to life and make recommendations for redress, accountability and reform
6. To further investigate and document the use of resources in the health care sector and identify any possible leakages and abuses that are costing the nation.

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum & Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR)

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