Billionaire’s cash helps Zimbabwe’s doctors back from strike

HARARE, ZIMBABWE (AP) — A billionaire offered to pay striking doctors in Zimbabwe to help end a months-long protest over grave hospital conditions as the economy crumbles, and a doctors’ group yesterday said it was encouraging members to embrace the money and return to work.

But Vice President of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association Dr Masimba Ndoro warned that “nothing much has changed” in the conditions at public hospitals that include lack of basic items such as bandages and gloves.

“It breaks a doctor’s heart to ask a patient who clearly cannot afford bread to buy their own blades, bandages and even dressing solutions, painkillers and antibiotics,” Ndoro said.

Doctors abandoned work four months ago to press for better salaries and working conditions, saying their roughly USD100 monthly pay was not enough to get by. The action became one of Zimbabwe’s longest doctors’ strikes in history.

The majority of people in Zimbabwe already are battling to put food on the table, let alone afford expensive private medical care or drugs.

“It is in the interests of both the patients and the doctors to go back to work,” Ndoro told The Associated Press (AP).

He said his organisation, which represents about 1,600 junior doctors at public hospitals, was asking members to accept the offer by Zimbabwean telecoms billionaire Strive Masiyiwa.

Masiyiwa through his charity late last year offered to pay doctors a “monthly subsistence allowance” of roughly USD300. Doctors were also offered transport to and from work.

The Higherlife Foundation charity announced that it had reopened the offer, which more than 300 doctors had signed up for before it closed last December.

Ndoro said more needs to be done to fix the health sector.

Often the best a doctor can do is diagnose and write a prescription for patients who usually ask relatives for help to buy drugs at private pharmacies, where prices are steep because of shortages at public hospitals.

Critics said the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy is making hollow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s promises to change the country’s fortunes when he took power in 2017 after longtime leader Robert Mugabe stepped down under pressure.