Zimbabwe doctors join nurses on strike over lack of virus protection

Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association president Tawanda Zvakada (R) and treasurer Tapiwa Mungofa speak to press at the Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, where they vowed to boycott work unless the government provides protective gear for COVID-19 (AFP Photo/Jekesai NJIKIZANA)

Harare (AFP) - Doctors in Zimbabwe's public hospitals have gone on strike over lack of protective gear against the novel coronavirus, joining thousands of nurses who walked out of the wards this week, their association said Thursday.

"We have made a call for safety, to say whilst we are sorting out some things, for now let's... withdraw our services temporarily," Tapiwa Mungofa, treasurer of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), told reporters in Harare.

He said most of the doctors across the country's government hospitals were not at work.

Some 15,000 hospital nurses downed tools on Wednesday over a lack of protective gear and water shortages.

The health workers walkout, "locked up" Harare Central Hospital, one of the country's main referral hospitals for the poor and the working class.

"The nurses decided to go and stay safe at home," Mungofa said.

The southern African country's public health system has been in a state of near-collapse for years, but the lack of drugs and equipment has pushed the system to the brink during the coronavirus spread.

The government-owned daily, The Herald, on Thursday reported Zimbabwe had taken delivery of its share of personal protective equipment donated by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.

Mungofa said doctors will resume duty "as soon as our safety as health care workers is guaranteed, we are ready to serve the Zimbabwean population, we are ready to fight this coronavirus".

Zimbabwe has recorded three infections and one death, since reporting its first case last Friday.

A 30-year-old broadcaster died on Monday, less than two days after he tested positive for COVID-19.

His family said the isolation facility where he died had neither the drugs nor a ventilator needed to treat his condition.