Healthcare workers strike across Africa demanding hazard pay, end to graft
As medical staff across the African continent work towards containing the Covid-19 pandemic, many are going on strike in part over the diversion of vital health funds due to corruption. From Zimbabwe to Sierra Leone, doctors and nurses are going on strike to demand better pay and protection as they carry out hazardous work.
In the midst of an economic meltdown and the coronavirus pandemic, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa fired health minister Obadiah Moyo for inappropriate conduct and abuse of office. According to local media, he allegedly issued tenders for Covid-19 testing kits to the tune of 53 million euros to small companies directly linked to politicians.
His dismissal comes as 13 Zimbabwean nurses and activists were let out on bail on Tuesday after being arrested for reportedly breaking Coivd-19 lockdown regulations.
The nurses and Zimbabwe Nurses’ Association (ZNA) members were arrested on Monday for demonstrating outside Harare Hospital. Nurses are striking to demand that they be paid in US dollars. ZNA, which represents some 15,000 nurses in state health facilities, called on its members to strike last week.
The Zimbabwean economy is floundering under nearly 800 percent inflation and medical staff maintain they cannot afford basic rent, food, and childcare when paid in Zimbabwean dollars. Many are paid less than 44 euros a month.
While health care professionals and Zimbabweans as a whole are struggling financially as well as trying to protect themselves from Covid-19, reports indicate the government has spent millions on expensive cars and perks for diplomatic staff.
According to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zimbabwe currently has 787 cases and 20 deaths, but there is fear the numbers could rise.
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The Zimbabwean case is not unique— doctors on the front lines treating Covid-19 in Sierra Leone went on strike on Thursday calling out an alleged misuse of healthcare funds by the government and non-payment of hazardous work bonuses.
Procurement reports released in late May by the finance ministry indicate that 20 percent of the West African country’s 754,000-euro Covid-19 budget went to buying 30 new SUVs and 230 motorbikes for various government offices, including the Emergency Operations Center, the police, military, and the Office of National Security.
The only money used for direct medical expenses paid for eight ventilators, totalling 76,000 euros.
The Covid-19 situation reports have repeatedly detailed lack of funds to pay for contact tracers of the coronavirus.
Doctors have called out the government for not supplying them with adequate personal protective equipment—160 of the 1,572 afflicted with Covid-19 are healthcare workers.
Their strike is leaving a big gap in medical services, a field that was already decimated by the Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Meanwhile, healthcare workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have reduced their shifts to a bare minimum, starting a go-slow last Friday to protest non-payment of bonuses for hazardous work in dealing with the pandemic.
A number of health care associations wrote a letter to Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga, calling for four months of bonus pay, a rise in salaries, and governmental support for family members of colleagues who died from Covid-19.
According to local media, the letter says health authorities refused to sign their work contracts, even though health care staff are taking major risks.
“If we become contaminated, we are left to our own sorry fate,” according to the letter.
Healthcare professionals will not return to full-time work until their demands are met, they added.
There are 7,660 registered cases in the DRC, according to the Africa CDC, with 183 deaths.
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