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Striking Zimbabwe doctors defy order to resume work

The doctors are in the second month of a strike over salaries which have dwindled to less than $100 per month in some cases as a result of galloping inflation.

FILE: Doctors in Zimbabwe embarked on a strike over pay and better working conditions. Picture: @ZHDAofficial/Twitter

HARARE - Doctors striking in Zimbabwe for pay hikes defied a government order to resume work on Monday and asked the UN and private businesses to help fund their return to the wards.

The doctors are in the second month of a strike over salaries which have dwindled to less than $100 per month in some cases as a result of galloping inflation.

They say their pay has lost value by at least 1,500%.

In a statement, the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) said they have used up their savings by "subsidising the employer" for them to just report for work.

Negotiations with the government have been deadlocked as the doctors rejected a 60% pay increase and demanded their salaries be pegged to the US dollar.

Health Minister Obadiah Moyo at the weekend ordered the medics to return to work, warning them with unspecified disciplinary action if they did not comply.

The government has adopted a ham-fisted response to the strike, now in its 34th day.

Last month police tried to stop the doctors from marching to parliament, until a court allowed the protest.

The leader of the doctors' union Peter Magombeyi was last month abducted by suspected state agents, only to be released five days later after pressure from his colleagues.

The government tried to block him from travelling to neighbouring South Africa for treatment after local doctors recommended further medical assessment.

He was only allowed to leave following another court order.

The striking doctors have appealed to the World Health Organisation (WHO), local businesses, churches and NGOs to help raise funding to supplement their wages.

"Lives are being lost and there is need to urgently raise resources to supplement... the salaries of 1,800 government-employed doctors," they said.

Should the UN heed the doctors' call, it will not be the first time it has supported health personnel in the crisis-ridden country.

UNICEF ran a so-called Health Transition Fund, a multi-donor pooled fund for four years from 2011, paying out allowances to augment medical practitioners' salaries.

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