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President Mnangagwa cuts short holiday over doctors’ strike

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Zimbabwe presidential inauguration

President Emmerson Mnangagwa cut short his annual vacation Wednesday to try to resolve an impasse with doctors who have been on strike for a month, a government spokesman said.

Hundreds of junior doctors in public hospitals across Zimbabwe withdrew their services in November demanding salaries in US dollars, an increase in on-call allowances and an improvement in drug supplies and provision of functional equipment.

Negotiations have so far hit a brick wall with the government insisting it has no capacity to pay salaries in US dollars.

Last week government said it had suspended 530 striking doctors but later made an about-turn to pave the way for fresh negotiations. “The president has had to cut short his annual leave in order to play an oversight role in the negotiations,” the information ministry permanent secretary Nick Mangwana told AFP.

He added that vice president Constantino Chiwenga, who has been acting as president while Mnangagwa was on leave, “is in constant contact with the president regarding the negotiations”. The doctors have vowed to continue with the strike.

“Until our demands are addressed, our position remains the same,” Mthabisi Bhebhe, secretary-general of the Hospital Doctors’ Association told AFP.
“The issues remain the same as we presented them to the (health) ministry last year. “We want decent remuneration.

With the current salaries … it’s very hard to pay rent and it’s not enough to buy groceries to last a month.”

Zimbabwe’s economy has been on a downturn for more than a decade with shortages of cash, high unemployment and the government battling to pay its workers.

Mnangagwa, who took over from long-time ruler Robert Mugabe and won a disputed election in July last year, pledged to revive the country’s moribund economy and mend fences with its former allies in the west following years of international isolation.

But the country was thrown into a panic after Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube introduced a two per cent tax on all electronic transactions as part of new measures to increase revenue.

Shortages of basic commodities resurfaced and prices shot up — and in some cases more than doubled within weeks.

The shortages hit pharmacies with some running out of essential drugs for chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension and accepting payment only in foreign currency.

Motorists spend many hours in long queues waiting to buy fuel.

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HEALTH

Perence Shiri, Zimbabwe Agriculture Minister Dies

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Perrence-Shiri-Dead

Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister Perence Shiri, a retired general who helped plot the ouster of Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup, has died, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Wednesday.

Perence Shiri, who commanded the air force for 25 years until he joined the government in 2017, was admitted to hospital on Tuesday, two government sources said. He died in the early hours of Wednesday.

“Shiri was a true patriot, who devoted his life to the liberation, independence and service of his country,” Mnangagwa said in a statement. He did not say how Shiri died.

But domestic media said Shiri, 65, succumbed to complications from the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, which has infected 2,817 and killed 40 in Zimbabwe.

A liberation war veteran,Perrence Shiri had a chequered past. He commanded the army’s Fifth Brigade unit that carried out the 1980s massacres of thousands of civilians in western Zimbabwe as the government sought to quell an insurgency.

The army massacres, known as ‘Gukurahundi’, a Shona term meaning the ‘early rain that washes away the chaff’, remain a sore point for the people of the Matabeleland region, many of whom demand justice and reparations.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change accused Perence Shiri of being among the security chiefs who organised violence against its members after Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential vote in 2008.Reuters

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HEALTH

US buys nearly all of Gilead’s Covid-19 drug Remdesivir

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Remdesivir Covid 19

The US is buying nearly all the next three months’ projected production of Covid-19 treatment Remdesivir from US manufacturer Gilead.

The US health department announced on Tuesday it had agreed to buy 500,000 doses for use in American hospitals. Tests suggest Remdesivir cuts recovery times, though it is not yet clear if it improves survival rates.

Gilead did sign a licensing deal in May for production outside the US but it is still in its early stages.

“President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for Covid-19,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. A course of treatment in the US will cost $2,340 (£1,900).

Nine companies can make the drug under licence outside the US for distribution in 127 mostly poorer countries, and the cost is lower. But the project is still in its early stages.

Additional quantities are being manufactured for use in clinical trials. But critics say the US move to buy up so much stock from Gilead itself undermines international co-operation on COVID, given that other countries have taken part in trials of Remdesivir, originally an anti-viral against Ebola.

“The trial that gave the result that allowed Remdesivir to sell their drug wasn’t just done in the US. There were patients participating through other European countries, in the UK as well, and internationally, Mexico and other places,” Oxford University’s Prof Peter Horby told BBC Radio 4.

He said the move also had implications for any possible future vaccine, with the need for “a much stronger framework if we are going to develop these things and they’re going to be used for national emergencies”.

Senior Sussex University lecturer, Ohid Yaqub, said: “It so clearly signals an unwillingness to co-operate with other countries and the chilling effect this has on international agreements about intellectual property rights.”Some in the US have criticised the purchase price, as taxpayer money had helped fund Remdesivir’s development.BBC

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HEALTH

17 new Zimbabwe Covid-19 cases confirmed

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Zimbabwe Covid 19

Seventeen new cases of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe, a majority of which are from quarantine facilities were reported yesterday bringing the total number of cases to 591.

From the cases confirmed yesterday, 13 involved returnees from South Africa, one from Botswana while three were local transmissions. The Ministry of Health and Child Care daily update shows that one of the cases confirmed as a local transmission had to contact with a known confirmed case.

Investigations are, however, underway to establish the source of infection for the two other local transmissions. Cases of recoveries also continue to increase with the latest statistics from the update standing at 162, leaving the country with 421 active COVID 19 cases.

The latest recoveries were reported from Mashonaland East (3), Mashonaland Central (2), Bulawayo (2), Matabeleland North (2), Mashonaland West (1) and Manicaland (1). The number of people who have died from the virus remains at seven.

“To date, the total number of confirmed cases is 591, recovered 162, active cases, 422 and seven deaths since the onset of the outbreak on 20 March 2020,” reads part of the update.

Zimbabwe has so far conducted 67 755 tests for Covid-19 from which, 30 711 were diagnostic tests while the remaining were rapid tests done for screening purposes. The Herald

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