JOHANNESBURG – At least 12 nurses were arrested in Zimbabwe on Monday when they were demonstrating against their working conditions, complaining that they do not have adequate protective gear to safely treat COVID-19 patients.
Thousands of nurses working in public hospitals stopped reporting for work in mid-June, part of frequent work stoppages by health workers who earn less than $50 a month and allege they are forced to work without adequate protective equipment such as gloves and masks. Police have been deployed to stop protests by nurses and doctors in recent months.
On Monday, dozens of nurses wearing masks and their white and blue uniforms gathered for protests at some of the country’s biggest hospitals in the capital, Harare, and the second-largest city of Bulawayo.
Zimbabwe’s coronavirus cases have been climbing in recent weeks, mostly recorded at centers where people returning to the country mainly from neighboring South Africa are kept in mandatory isolation. The country had recorded about 700 cases of coronavirus infection and 8 deaths by Monday.
Nurses sang and chanted slogans at hospital premises, carrying placards that read “Nurses lives matter,” “We have been reduced to nothing” and “We want our salaries in U.S dollars.”
After some running skirmishes, police arrested some of the nurses and shoved them into a truck at Harare Central Hospital. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, an organization representing the nurses, said at least 12 nurses were arrested and have been taken to a police station in the poor suburb of Mbare. They have been charged with contravening lockdown rules, the organization said.
The Zimbabwe Nurses Association described the arrests as the “clearest evidence” of the government’s unwillingness to improve their conditions.
“The attempts to strangle our genuine voices through force is nothing new ... however we have lost our earnings through slave wages and so we have nothing more to lose,” said the nurses association in a statement.