Doctors' strike in Zimbabwe led to 45 deaths, say officials

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At least 45 people have died in the past 48 hours at major state hospitals in Zimbabwe because of a nationwide strike by doctors and nurses, medical officials said yesterday.

The officials said the deaths at Harare, Chitungwiza and Parirenyatwa hospitals, all in the capital, were mainly due to neglect because of the week-long strike by the doctors and nurses pressing for more pay and allowances.

Health Ministry officials said unless the government moved fast to resolve the strike, more and more deaths would be recorded. A senior ministry official, who requested anonymity, said: "The situation is that we are having people dying of neglect ... these 40-plus people have died precisely because of that and the question is, can't it all be avoided?"

The largely state-owned Herald newspaper quoted hospital officials as saying army doctors had been called in to help at the main hospitals.

The doctors, who staged an earlier crippling strike in March, said negotiations with the government were deadlocked. They claim they are being short-changed by President Robert Mugabe's government, and that the poor salaries have led to the exodus of doctors and nurses, particularly to Britain and South Africa. Sibert Mandega, president of the Hospital Doctors' Association, said: "There is no resolution in sight, and the strike continues.

"We've always said and we still say we regret any loss of lives because of the strike but we have been forced to take this action by our employers."

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's legal fraternity expressed revulsion and disappointment yesterday over the resignation of a highly respected white High Court judge, Michael Gillespie. He was the fourth judge to quit the Zimbabwean bench this year. The others are Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay, who was forced to resign in March, and High Court judges James Devittie and Ishmael Chatikobo.

All four judges were widely respected for remaining fiercely independent in the face of an onslaught against the judiciary, the media and civic society by Mr Mugabe's government. A spokesman for the Law Society of Zimbabwe, which regulates the legal profession in Zimbabwe, said it was extremely sad that the country was losing "the cream of the judiciary".

After firing Mr Gubbay and appointing his ally, Godfrey Chidyausiku, to replace him, Mr Mugabe tried to dismiss the four remaining Supreme Court judges (one white, one Asian and two blacks) but they refused to resign. The Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, announced the appointment last week of three additional judges to the Supreme Court, the first time that Zimbabwe has had more than five judges sitting on the Supreme Court.

The appointment of the judges was seen as an attempt by Mr Mugabe to take charge of the Supreme Court and neutralise the influence of the other independent four. Mr Mugabe has also appointed seven other judges, most with strong links to his ruling party, Zanu-PF, to the Zimbabwe High Court.

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