Zimbabwean nurses outraged at paltry government loans

The government has come under fire after releasing a meager $23 million loan facility to health workers to buy or build houses, but that figure is only enough to build one house.

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga’s Ministry of Health and Children is struggling to stem the mass exodus of medical professionals, who are protesting poor wages and working conditions.

Health workers have lobbied for better salaries and in US dollars, saying the local currency component has pushed them into deep poverty.

The government says it lacks the capacity to meet their demands and has promised other non-monetary incentives such as housing loans, which have been dismissed as laughable by unions.

In a note to division chiefs, chief medical officers and provincial medical directors of the Ministry of Health and Children dated August 30, Jasper Chimedza, secretary of the ministry, said $23 million had been received of the Treasury for the housing loan program.

“Please note that the Department of Health and Child Care has been awarded $23,000,000 for the Junior Civil Service Loan Facility and is inviting applications from eligible Junior Members (below Deputy Director level ) to access the loan program,” Chimedza wrote.

“The loan is being coordinated at head office level and your respective leaders should forward a request from a member in urgent need of financial assistance to be used for residential property construction and residential property upgrades.”

Using the interbank rate, $23 million translates to about $46,000 US and about $35,000 US in the parallel market.

A housing stand costs between $5,000 and $15,000 depending on size and location.

The president of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina), Enock Dongo, said the government had never taken the plight of health workers seriously.

“There is no sincerity on the part of the government regarding this issue,” Dongo said.

“How can they allocate such a small amount that can only build or buy one house in Glenview?

“We are saying to the government, ‘stop kidding ourselves’.

“Can we realistically improve the working conditions of health workers.

“If they want to give this money to one person, make it clear to everyone and don’t waste people’s time.”

As the pay dispute with the government rages on, nurses have quit their jobs in droves.

According to Dongo, around 3,000 nurses have left their jobs and left for the UK since 2021.

A few months ago, the UK said its health system needed to fill around 110,192 vacancies left after frontline health workers died from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government has announced plans to ban doctors and nurses from going on strike for more than three days under proposed new amendments to the Health Services Act.

Under the Health Services Bill, worker representatives who are accused of inciting nurses and doctors to engage in strike action deemed illegal could be jailed for up to three years in what authorities say needed to “inculcate discipline” in the health sector.

About Evelyn C. Heim

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