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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Strikes and Protests 2007/8 - Doctors and Nurses strikes


  • Health sector chaos
    Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
    Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2007-2
    Monday January 15th 2007 Sunday January 21st 2007

    THIS week the official media continued to give piecemeal coverage of the problems bedevilling the health sector, underscored by the on-going doctors' strike, drug shortages and government's failure to contain the spread of anthrax.

    Although ZBC devoted 26 stories to health, these were generally superficial and evaded discussing the deteriorating health sector in the context of misgovernance. As a result, none of their stories cleared the confusion in the sector, particularly government's exact position on the doctors' strike.

    For example, while the Chronicle (18/1) reported Health Deputy Minister Edwin Muguti claiming that government had fired the 200 striking junior doctors "yesterday, after ignoring an ultimatum to return to work by 8am", The Herald (20/1) reported his boss, David Parirenyatwa, disputing this. Parirenyatwa told the paper: "The intern doctors had not been fired. There is a procedure that has to be followed before they are dismissed from work."

    Notably, The Herald did not ask the cause of the contradiction. Neither did either paper attempt to establish the "attractive" package covering "salaries, transport and accommodation" the two government officials claimed they had put together for the doctors.

    ZBC avoided the confusion. In fact, its audiences only got some clue of the confusion when Parirenyatwa disputed the doctors' dismissal in a story in which he deceitfully attributed the continued strike to the "negative influence from some Non-Governmental Organisations" (Spot FM, 20/1, 8am).

    The official media's reluctance to frankly discuss the ills afflicting the health delivery system resulted in them failing to follow up previous media reports on the nurses' strike.

    Similarly, they paid scant attention to the outbreak of anthrax.

    But rather than view such problems as a reflection of government losing its grip on its ability to manage national affairs, the broadcaster shifted the blame onto the authorities' favourite scapegoat for such failings - "illegal economic sanctions". Spot FM (17/1, 8am), for example, reported Zimbabwe Diabetic Association president Ngoni Chigwana attributing the high cost of drugs and their shortage to "Western imposed sanctions" and some pharmaceutical companies that were "profiteering" at "the expense of the majority".

    The inadequate manner in which the government Press treated the subject was mirrored by its narrow sourcing pattern as shown in Fig 1.

    Fig. 1 Voice distribution in the government Press

    Government Professional Alternative Unamed
    6 1 1 2

    Although ZBC gave significant space to alternative voices, most of those quoted only highlighted the country's problems or were used to buttress the authorities' claims on the source of the troubles.

    Fig. 2 Voice distribution on ZBC

    Government Alternative Professional Ordinary people
    14 9 6 4

    In contrast, the private media carried 15 stories on the health sector (private Press [9] and private electronic media [6]) that were generally informative. Apart from highlighting the confusion surrounding government's handling of the doctors' strike, they viewed the matter and the shortage of drugs as symptomatic of a crumbling health delivery system. The stories included updates on government's mediation with the doctors, which have all since failed (The Daily Mirror & Studio 7 16/1, The Financial Gazette 18/1 and SW Radio Africa 19/1).

    The Gazette, for instance, explored the reasons behind the standoff, noting that while doctors claimed to be suffering both financially and emotionally, "an overburdened and broke government" regarded "the young striking doctors as greedy and selfish".

    Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa agreed, arguing that government's failure to address the doctors' grievances was a reflection of the authorities' lack of seriousness in dealing with the matter.

    The critical manner in which the private media tackled the topic was mirrored by their balanced sourcing pattern as illustrated by the private papers' voice distribution (See Fig 3).

    Fig. 3 Voice distribution in private papers

    Government Professional Alternative Ordinary people
    5 4 4 2

    However, the private media ignored the outbreak of anthrax this week.

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