Strike closes UTH children wards

Zambia’s highest referral hospital, the University Teaching Hospital, yesterday shut down the children’s wards due to the strike by nurses, midwives and pharmacists.

But the government has rejected new demands from striking nurses and has instead instituted disciplinary action against all nurses who have gone on the strike that has paralysed the operations of the hospital and other medical institutions.

According to a demand notice seen by this reporter, the nurses are demanding a 100 per cent salary increment saying the 4 per cent given to them was unacceptable.

They are also calling for a proper nurse-to-patient ratio saying the current ratio was burdening them.

“Housing allowance; accommodation in Lusaka is very expensive because there is no house rentable at K580 or K600. We therefore demand K2,000 housing allowance. We also demand that the night duty allowance should be increased to K2,000 per month,” their representative said.

The nurses also said they want “ ZUNO to negotiate with the government based on professional grounds and not party loyalty-based negotiations.

“Harmonisation of salaries according to qualifications cannot work for nurses because of the duration of training and the nature of job we do. We demand that we are treated as essential workers,” she said.

And according to sources that attended the management meeting, the decision to close wards was reached at after a two hour meeting that considered strike-induced staff shortage.

The wards that have been affected by the strike which has now entered day 6 are AO3, AO4 and AO8 the wards have since been merged with the admissions ward.

“We are removing patients from these affected wards to the admissions ward; we have finally decided to shut down AO3, AO4 and AO8 in order to give total attention to serious and critical cases. We have merged these wards and will be in the admission block for easy monitoring of patients because we don’t have people to work. Nurses and midwives have vowed not to get back to work until their union representatives come back to address them on the new development,” said some of the sources that attended the meeting.

The nurses said the only wards that would be left open were those for patients requiring specialised, critical and complicated attention.

The nurses who also work as sisters’ In-charge for various wards at the hospital complained of the long hours, the increased work load and lack of commitment by the government to address the strike that has seen operations at the country’s biggest hospital paralysed.

“There is too much pressure of work; we are overwhelmed and there is no way one can work for 18 hours. The nurses are coming for work but they are not doing anything, they can’t touch anything including entering the wards, they are seated on the lawn, they are not working, they ( union leaders) have tried to talk to them but it has failed,” the nurses said.

And opposition Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) spokesperson Antonio Mwanza has demanded for an immediate solution to the strike that has paralysed the operations of the country’s largest health institution.

Mwanza said that the government must resolve without any further delays the strike action by nurses, midwives and pharmacists at UTH to stop further loss of lives.

In an interview with the Daily Nation yesterday, Mwanza said that the PF government must stop the strikes in order to stop the unwarranted deaths at the UTH as a result of the strike by nurses, midwives and other essential health workers.

He urged health minister Joseph Katema to urgently address the grievances of the striking nurses and bring to an end the strike to save the lives of the patients who were dying as a result of lack of medical attention.

“The PF must accept that nurses are on strike because of the government’s failure to give them the 100 or 200 per cent salary increment they promised. The 21 per cent salary hike is a mockery to these qualified nurses who are working under difficult conditions owing to the critical shortage of staff, equipment and essential drugs in our clinics and hospitals,” said Mwanza.