HomeNews‘Deploying military personnel in hospitals not sustainable’

‘Deploying military personnel in hospitals not sustainable’

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HEALTH experts have warned that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s decision to deploy military health personnel to replace striking doctors and nurses at public hospitals could backfire as it was reactionary and might not resolve perennial problems facing the country’s health sector.

BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA /RICHARD MPONDE

Cabinet on Tuesday resolved to deploy military health personnel at public health institutions across the country to deal with recurrent strikes by doctors and nurses in the sector.

The move comes after Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who doubles as Health minister, recently announced that doctors who failed to secure jobs at government institutions could serve in the army and the Zimbabwe Republic Police.

Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Itai Rusike said the deployment of military nurses at public health institutions should be a short-term measure.

Rusike said the military did not have the necessary and adequate health personnel to service all the public health facilities in the country.

“We need a long-term solution for addressing the grievances of striking health workers, instead of threats and intimidation to fire the nurses, given that the country does not have adequate health workers due to the massive brain drain as a result of poor conditions.

“Working conditions for health workers are being worsened by poor grievance procedures. The combination of limited resources, increasing stress and reduced salaries is an inflammatory one.”

Rusike said health workers were caught in the middle of a system that was slow to respond to their needs and ethical pressures which demand that they do not go on strike.

“Health workers accept that they should not put their patients at risk by engaging in industrial action, but they also feel strongly that there must be a fair and impartial procedure for resolving disputes. Long-standing grievances simply should not be allowed to build up,” he said.

Former Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) national executive director Okay Machisa said: “Government has decided to deploy soldiers to different public hospitals because they have not managed to live up to the right policies that should be put in place in terms of the welfare of health workers. The health sector has been deplorable over the years and it has not been addressed.

“How many soldiers do we have that are nurses and doctors? We have to go back to the drawing board and see what can be done to move the country forward. The soldiers are not going to be enough,” Machisa said.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Prolific Mataruse said the deployment of the military in medical units was not unique to Zimbabwe.

Both opposition MDC Alliance and MDC-T condemned the removal of over 1 032 nurses from the government payroll for demanding better working conditions.

MDC Alliance secretary-general Chalton Hwende tweeted: “This regime running the country is cruel. How do you dismiss workers for asking for better working conditions? They don’t care about the people, they are illegitimate, and they subverted the people’s will in 2018. 1 032 nurses struck off payroll”.

MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora also tweeted: “The decision to remove the more than 1 000 nurses is totally wrong. Their demands for better working conditions are certainly not outrageous. The MDC-T demands that the government urgently addresses the appalling conditions of service of all public servants.”

The nurses have been on strike since June, at a critical time their services were required in the fight against COVID-19.

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