By Tichaona Sibanda
November 18 2008
About one hundred health workers were injured on Tuesday, some of them seriously, after heavily armed riot police baton-charged their peaceful protest march in central Harare.
The health workers from Harare, Parirenyatwa and Chitungwiza hospitals had just embarked on a peaceful procession towards the Ministry of Health offices, to express concern against the total collapse of the health delivery system.
Dr Simba Ndoda, one of the protest organizers and a victim of the police brutality, told us the authorities went to extremes in dealing with the unarmed health workers. He said over one thousand health workers, including doctors, nurses, radiographers, administrators and pharmacists, had gathered at Parirenyatwa hospital for the protest march.
However hundreds of police in riot gear deployed outside the hospital and cordoned off all link roads. They stopped the health workers and unleashed a baton charge, which left dozens of members of the health fraternity injured.
The police flushed out leaders of the protest march and manhandled them before dragging some of them to waiting police vehicles. Unconfirmed reports say a number of protesters were hauled off to different police stations.
‘This was supposed to be a peacful demonstration. We were unarmed. We only had our uniforms and stethoscopes. We tried to reason with the police so that we could proceed with the march but like a lightining bolt they just set upon us, without warning and savagely beat us, inflicting serious injuries on many of our compatriots,’ Dr Ndoda said.
The strike action comes amid the failure of the government to contain the spread of cholera, which has so far killed hundreds of people, due to lack of medicines and drugs. The protesters were also demanding that the government review their salaries, which are not enough to even provide food for a family. ‘Enough is enough’ and ‘Pay health workers properly’ were some of the banners carried.
The country’s health system, once among the best in Africa, collapsed under the weight of the world’s highest inflation rate, officially estimated at 231 million percent, but believed to be over 5 quintillion percent. Most hospitals are now unable to provide even basic medicines.
Dr Ndoda said conditions at state hospitals were ‘traumatising,’ explaining that he had personally seen some of his patients ‘die unnecessarily’ because of lack of drugs, medicines and basic equipment.
‘It is very disturbing. There are no drugs, no equipment and now there is no manpower. The country’s three major referral hospitals have been closed and the government has still not said a word about it.
So how are the ordinary citizens without money going to survive? Asked Dr Ndoda. He said the protest was also meant to show their outrage at the lack of political will by the government to resolve the health crisis.
The Zimbabwe Doctors for Human rights strongly condemned the manhandling and ruthless thrashing of health workers at the hands of the police.A doctor who asked not to be named said it was strange the government had resources to deal with a peaceful march, but was doing nothing about the cholera pandemic that threatened the lives of up to 1.4 million people.
A statement from Doctors without Borders said the whole country is at risk if cholera continues to spread unchecked. Officially state media reports that only 73 people have died of the disease, but independent estimates put the figure closer to one thousand. Many tens of thousands have fallen ill.
In Beitbridge, cholera has killed 36 and 431 have been hospitalised at the border town since last week. Beitbridge medical officer Taikaitei Kanongara said they expected the number of victims to rise.
Police violently disrupt Protest
November 18, 2008
The police before they charged.
By Raymond Maingire
HARARE – Anti-riot police on Tuesday violently disrupted a protest march by hundreds of disgruntled workers from Harare hospitals as they sought to register with the authorities their mounting concern over the collapse of Zimbabwe’s health delivery system.
The police blocked a peaceful march by more than 700 hospital workers who attempted to leave Parirenyatwa Hospital to present a petition to the Minister of Health, Dr David Parirenyatwa at his offices at Mukwati Building in the city.
The marchers comprised doctors, nurses, nurse aids and general workers from Harare, Parirenyatwa and Chitungwiza hospitals.
According to Dr Simba Ndoda, the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, there were representatives from Chinhoyi and Kadoma hospitals, which have also been forced to close down due to the crisis.
Relating the incident over the phone, Dr Ndoda said the police descended on the marchers in the hospital grounds and assaulted them.
“The police beat us thoroughly,” he said, “They stopped us as we were about to exit the grounds of Parirenyatwa and they beat us up and followed right into the nurses’ homes.
“As I am speaking, we are in hiding at Harare Hospital. We hear police are looking for us.”
He said police had initially informed the protestors not to proceed with the march “for political reasons” as they feared it had potential to grow into fully blown riots by disgruntled Zimbabweans.
Said Dr Ndoda, “We had asked for approval to go ahead with the march but the police denied us permission, citing political reasons. The police said they feared some people would join the march and the situation would become uncontrollable.
“We wanted people to now the real reasons why doctors are on strike. The State media is quick to misinform the public that doctors are insensitive to the plight of ordinary people who are dying in their thousands in hospitals because of the strike by doctors.
“We wanted people to know that while we have genuine reasons to go on strike because of perennially poor working conditions, it is still not possible for us to perform our duties as there is nothing to use.”
According to Dr Ndoda, almost 99 percent of Zimbabweans rely on government hospitals.
Primrose Matambanadzo, Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights co-coordinator said Tuesday’s march was more than a strike by hospital workers.
“This was more than a strike,” she said.
“A strike is where you stop going to work for one simple reason. This time we are decrying the total collapse of the whole health system.
“This is an issue where we have all reasons to be concerned. We cannot continue to watch helplessly while patients die in thousands.
“Doctors have been on strike for weeks but nothing is being done to address the situation.”
She said an earlier meeting with the permanent secretary of health to register their concerns did not bear any fruit as nothing was done to address the situation.”
By the time of going to press, there were no official reports of any arrests or casualties.
But baton-wielding anti-riot policemen continued to cordon off the whole Parirenyatwa hospital premises late into the afternoon. Police trucks were patrolling the grounds.
Zimbabwe’s government hospitals stopped operating nearly three weeks ago due to a strike by doctors over poor working conditions.
Critically ill patients have been turned away ever since. An emergency room is in operation at Parirenyatwa hospital.
Mpilo hospital, Bulawayo’s biggest hospital also closed last Wednesday, citing similar reasons.
Thousands of patients are being referred to private hospitals which charge for their services in US dollars.
Efforts to obtain comment from the Minister of Health Dr Parirenyatwa were fruitless.
But government still maintains the health situation in the country is still under control as the country’s central bank is being tasked to procure scarce drugs from abroad.