Government hospitals in Zimbabwe have started turning away patients as a strike by doctors and nurses drags on. Negotiations have been held up by the disappearance of the strike leader, Peter Gabriel Magombeyi, whom fellow health workers believe was arrested or abducted by security forces.
For much of Thursday, the entrance to Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, Zimbabwe’s biggest hospital, was turned into a place to protest and to address journalists. No patients were being treated at the facility.
Fifty-three-year-old Susan Tembo, a cervical cancer patient, hopes the strike ends soon.
“I was looking forward to being treated today,” she said. “But I do not know when this missing Dr. Peter will be found so that they resume working and they attend to me. I am in pain. The abduction of Peter and the doctors’ strike is really making me feel the pain more. I am now struggling to walk.”
Colleagues of Magombeyi, acting president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, say their leader’s push for action on Sept. 3 is what led security forces abduct him.
Tawanda Zvakada of the doctors association says health workers feel for the patients, but they can’t call off the strike.
“We do not draw pleasure from [patients suffering],” he said. “It actually pains us because those patients might actually be one of us here. Might be our relative. But, it’s unfortunate that our employer has put us in a corner. And it really, really hurts us.
Health Minister Obediah Moyo says the government played no role in the disappearance of the outspoken Magombeyi.
He also says army doctors and nurses are being deployed to hospitals during the strike.
Earlier this week, the doctors petitioned President Emmerson Mnangagwa to ensure that Magombeyi returns safely.
“With these petitions, we are trying to send a message to the responsible authorities to account for the whereabouts of our acting president, Dr. Peter Magombeyi, because as doctors we can’t go back to work. We feel threatened and our safety is not guaranteed. We believe that the government has a responsibility for the security of its citizens. So we want them to address all those concerns.”
While the standoff between the government and health workers continues, patients like Tembo go untreated, with no choice but to wait until the situation is resolved.