Chiwenga backs down on junior doctors

Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga


A MAJORITY of junior doctors have declined to be conscripted into the army and will now be deployed to public hospitals, it has emerged.

Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga  in September last year ordered that junior doctors be conscripted into the army for residency or housemanship.

This was viewed by observers as tantamount to militarisation of the health sector and aimed at stopping health practitioners from engaging in industrial action and leaving the country for greener pastures.

But NewsDay understands that about 100 out of the 180 junior doctors have rejected undergoing military housemanship and government has climbed down on its earlier position and allowed them to serve in public hospitals.

According to a correspondence by Health ministry secretary James Chimedza to the Health Service Board executive director Ruth Kaseke dated April 6, about 100 junior doctors are to be placed under the housemanship programme at various health institutions countrywide.

“It is noted that there are about 100 medical graduates who are yet to undergo the required housemanship programme,” read part of the letter by Chimedza.

“The Hon Vice-President and Minister of Health and Child Care has approved that these students be deployed to various qualifying hospitals to begin the housemanship.”

Chimedza added: “We are, therefore, rolling out the recruitment process immediately utilising the available Treasury concurrence issued out last year. The acting chief director curative services will draw up the deployment list which we shall share with you.”

Chiwenga, who was appointed Health minister last year, had stepped up efforts to militarise the health profession and stop junior doctors from striking.

Junior doctors are supposed to go for a two-year practice in public hospitals as part of their training.

Health expert Norman Matara, who is secretary of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, said a class is often made up of 180 to 190 junior doctors, meaning about 80 had opted for conscription with the army.

“Housemanship is for two years, and it is a normal procedure which every doctor should go through,” he said.

“The 100 are those who refused to do an internship in the army. Government has allowed these ones to do it under the Ministry of Health. Some agreed to do it under the army.”

Chiwenga also suspended training of junior doctors at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) to force them to return to work.

He also ordered the closure of three programmes at the UZ medical school, a move viewed as victimisation of specialist health practitioners who went on strike to demand personal protective equipment.

The decision was, however, later reversed.

In September last year, Chiwenga imposed tough measures for doctors intending to leave the country.

A junior doctor will now be required to pay US$200 for a clearance certificate signed by the Medical and Dental Practitioners Council of Zimbabwe if he/she wants to leave for greener pastures outside the country.

Chiwenga, who was Acting President during the junior doctor’s strike, said the junior doctors would remain under the Higher Education ministry until they completed training.

“Government has spent a lot of money training these young doctors as what they want to call them. I think they are still in internship. They are not yet junior doctors. We are going to look at the law within our systems as we have found that the systems which were being followed were not correct,” Chiwenga said then.

“When someone is still under training, you cannot call him/her a junior doctor.

“He/she is still on internship, and those regulations are going to be made. We will put them to Parliament and, until somebody finishes, he or she is still under the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education because eventually, they are the ones who say ‘yes, he has finished and is now entitled to be registered as a doctor’.”

Junior doctors have had long-standing grievances with the government over the welfare and conditions of service which saw them resorting to industrial action to jolt government into action.

  • Follow Richard on Twitter @muponderichard