updated 1/5/2007 11:39:50 AM ET 2007-01-05T16:39:50

A strike at Zimbabwe’s state hospitals intensified on Friday, virtually paralyzing most public medical care as senior medical personnel joined junior doctors boycotting work.

“I can safely say every doctor — except one percent — is on strike and we are saying this time that whatever comes our way we are prepared for it,” Kudakawashe Nyamutukwa, head of the Hospital Doctors’ Association, told Reuters.

Junior doctors at state hospitals, who earn about $350 a month, went on strike last week to demand better pay, saying an inflation rate of more than 1,000 percent had left them struggling to make ends meet amid a deepening economic crisis.

Health Minister David Parirenyatwa told state media on Friday he had met striking doctors and urged them to return to work while the government considers their demands, which include pay rises of more than 8,800 percent.

Strike worsens
But the strike broadened on Friday to include most senior doctors, leaving hospital emergency rooms staffed largely by nurses and interns and waiting rooms packed with patients, many on stretchers.

President Robert Mugabe’s government has singled out health workers among government employees barred from boycotting work because they performed essential services.

The government has not said what action it will take against the doctors, but has previously said striking doctors were in breach of their work oath not to strike.

Staff at the private clinics have not joined the strike, but most Zimbabweans receive medical care through state hospitals and clinics.

Doctors have staged a series of strikes in recent years to push for wages they say have been eroded by inflation, while thousands of doctors and nurses have abandoned the country seeking better-paying jobs in neighboring South Africa, Britain and Australia.

More strikes expected
Economic analysts have warned Zimbabwe is likely to see more strikes in the coming months by dissatisfied workers grappling with a economic recession largely blamed on Mugabe’s government.

Urban workers have borne the brunt of the crisis marked by the highest inflation rate in the world, rising unemployment and poverty levels, collapsing public services and shortages of foreign currency, food and fuel.

Bread ranges between $2.80 and $4.80, while a two liter can of cooking oil costs about $30 and a commuter bus fare costs around $4.

On Thursday workers from the state power utility ZESA Holdings briefly downed tools and disconnected consumers in the capital to press for a 1,150 percent hike in salaries. ZESA says it can only pay 144 percent.

The Zimbabwe dollar is officially pegged at 250 to the U.S. greenback but trades at up to 3,000 on a thriving black market.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.


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