PEOPLE from various places in Mashonaland East sat in the shade at Marondera Provincial Hospital to avoid the scorching October sun. The temperatures were so intense that they brought discomfort to many.

Some of the sick groaned in pain, with hopes that a doctor would appear to attend to them, with their health deteriorating with each passing hour.

Inside the hospital, there was chaos, with a few nurses doing most of the work under instruction from a medical superintendent.

There was a hive of activity following word that a doctor had arrived, but the patients’ joy was short-lived when they discovered the “Messiah” had merely come to pick up his mobile phone charger.

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This was soon after the doctors had declared “incapacitation” and went on industrial action about three months ago.

“We were relieved to see the doctor arriving, but he left without attending to anyone. They are saying he had come to fetch his mobile phone charger. He left without even talking to any patient,” Maria Nyambuya (56), who had brought her ailing mother from Mutoko, said.

As of yesterday, there was only one doctor — the medical superintendent — out of a possible six on a good day, attending to patients. It was an overwhelming call given the high numbers of patients from the entire province needing attention. The hospital was operating at a very low scale.

The doctors’ strike has crippled the public health sector, raising fears of a spike in hospital deaths across the country.

The government’s heavy-handed response through firing nearly 300 medical practitioners has not helped matters, only piling up more misery on patients desperate for professional medical attention.

According to a circular dated November 17 issued by the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), there is no going back until government meets their demands and equip the hospitals.

“Our unity has brought us this far. We have overcome all the hurdles coming our way and collectively we continue doing so,” read the circular.

In some cases, mortuaries have exceeded their carrying capacities while those with low incomes at the mercy of fate as they cannot access pricey healthcare costs at private institutions some of which have been charging their fees in foreign currency.

Addressing scores of party supporters during the official opening of Mahusekwa District Hospital in Mashonaland East province recently, President Emmerson Mnangagwa described the striking doctors as unpatriotic.

“Do you see these two doctors who are working here (at Mahusekwa Hospital)? They didn’t do what their colleagues did, turning their backs against the sick. I thank them for they are not possessed by the spirit of legion but by the spirit of Jehovah,” he said as he paraded the two doctors who work at a district hospital that caters for thousands of villagers.

According to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the honourable thing for Health minister Obadiah Moyo was to step down and admit that he has failed the Health ministry.

Apart from the mass deaths at local medical institutions, there is also a massive shortage of medicine and drugs. In a survey conducted in Hwedza district last month, hypertension patients were struggling to secure the life-saving HCTs in rural clinics with most now depending on getting them from central hospitals and pharmacies.

In a Cabinet briefing recently, Moyo said government was seized with the current health crisis and that they would soon buy medicine to restock the empty hospitals.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) president Obert Masaraure, whose organisation has thrown its weight behind the doctors’ strike, said there was need for government to prioritise genuine concerns of the civil service.

“We applaud the doctors for remaining resolute and united pressing for a living wage. The doctors’ actions are an inspiration to the working class in our fight against neo-liberalism.

“We call upon government to prioritise the genuine concerns of our doctors and the broader civil service before the collapse of all public services,” he said.

The noise of the ambulance sirens have lessened, the incinerators are no longer puffing up smoke while the stench of betadine and other strong drugs have since died away.

Today, the hospitals have become habitats of the beetles and spiders. The shadow of the doctor has become an important thing, but his presence is not being felt as the undertakers get down arranging dead bodies in the overloaded mortuaries that are also grappling with power cuts.