Health workers in Zimbabwe went on strike in July after they denied a pay raise of 100% from the government. The workers cited their desire to be paid in U.S. dollars, as the local currency experienced inflation of 131.7%, and said that they would be striking until salaries increased to US$540 a month, the pay that was offered in 2018 before the local currency collapsed. This strike comes as both economic and health crises grip the nation, leaving many patients unable to access necessary care. Disease outbreaks and natural disasters have only intensified the urgency of the issue.
The salaries given to doctors and nurses are “pathetic,” the head of the Zimbabwe Nurses’ association told Reuters, which reported that the majority were paid 20,000 Zimbabwe dollars – US$53 – a month.
Moreover, this is not the first time that health workers in the country have gone on strike. In 2019, inflation was at 255.3%, leaving many care providers unable to pay for food, housing, or travel to get to their place of employment. The government punished hundreds of doctors and nurses for their involvement in the strike. Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe later peaked at 837.5% in 2020.
“Zimbabwe has great potential for growth, but ongoing crises continue to prevent progress,” the International Rescue Committee says, citing the 2008 cholera outbreak – which sickened over 100,000 people – the 2016 drought caused by El Niño – the worst in 35 years – and the appearance of Cyclone Idai, which became “the worst natural disaster of 2019.” Response to these disasters has been undermined by the nation’s history of economic turmoil, which began in the late 1990’s and was elevated by political strife, leading to consistent food shortages and high levels of unemployment. UNICEF estimates that in 2022, 4.3 million people, including 2.2 million children, will be “in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Zimbabwe due to multiple hazards, including floods and storms, the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis.”
“The I.R.C.’s work in Zimbabwe is more critical than ever as the country struggles to rebuild from the effects of natural disasters and a weakened economy,” the committee said.
With the country’s preponderance of economic and humanitarian concerns, many Zimbabweans are struggling with both economic insecurity and finding food. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the recent recession, and both have contributed to the rise of extreme poverty that impacts almost 50% of Zimbabweans.
These challenges, which health workers are facing alongside the majority of the population, cannot be left unaddressed. Reforms and shifts in policy are necessary to combat inflation and confront widespread issues within the economy. A lack of both internal and external action leaves millions of people vulnerable at multiple levels of society. This cannot be allowed to continue.
While there is hope for recovery and change, the government must act for the safety of its people. As Zimbabwe confronts the underpayment of its health care workers, there must also be open dialogue to encourage equitable treatment of its whole populace. Addressing the multiple crises that leave Zimbabwe endangered is crucial to the future of the country, as the well-being and security of the people are some of the largest contributors to a healthy state.
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