MAPUTO, June 14, 2013 (AFP) - A Mozambique medical strike now in its third week has paralysed all but essential services at some of the country's busiest hospitals, which are being forced to turn away desperate patients.
"Every day I come and there are no doctors," says gynaecology patient, Virginia Sitoe, who has been waiting since May 24 for test results to schedule a much-needed operation.
Friday is no different, and once again she is disappointed.
"We are not scheduling consultations, we have no doctors," the receptionist tells her.
Looking around the usually bustling lobby of this Maputo hospital, most of the benches are empty.
Only the most desperate patients still bother to turn up hoping to see a doctor. The rest have got the message and stayed at home.
Sitoe is just one of the many Mozambicans who are feeling the impact of the ongoing pay dispute by doctors, nurses and other hospital staff.
"People are afraid to come. We have lost our value as a hospital. People are either dying at home or going to traditional healers," Mavelane Hospital's director, Ussene Isse tells AFP.
Isse has cancelled normal consultations and kept only essential trauma and maternity services running, as well as the dispensation of retrovirals for HIV sufferers.
The hospital has stayed open thanks to the deployment of military doctors and student nurses, initially drafted to fill the gaps.They are joined by volunteers from the Mozambican Red Cross acting as orderlies who wheel patients between wards.
The striking doctors, many of whom earn less than $600 (460 euros) a month, want their salaries doubled and were not impressed by a 15-percent raise they received following a strike in January.
In response the government instituted a tough no-work-no-pay policy against a strike it calls illegal.
As a result many medics returned to their posts but have instead staged a "silent strike" by embarking on what senior medics at the hospital described as a go-slow.
"People here are not really working," one surgical assistant who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, tells AFP.
Talks between the government and strikers to end the stay-away have resulted in deadlock and the government refuses to recognise an association claiming to represent nurses, cleaners and other medical support staff.
The doctors refuse to negotiate without them.
Under fire for leaving on an investment-seeking tour of the Far East in the midst of the crisis, the country's president, Armando Guebuza has lashed out at the strikers whom he said did "not give enough importance to human life".
On a tour of Maputo's main hospital at the weekend he urged them to "reconsider" their actions.
The government has hit back at reports there have been deaths specifically linked to the strike.
In some provinces "no doctors, nurses or health professionals have paralysed their activities", cabinet spokesman, Alberto Nkutumula said.
However, local media have reported botched procedures by nurse trainees.
A student nurse working in Mavelane's maternity wing told AFP nurses were working without some of the equipment they needed for births because there was no one to assemble medical kits.
Outside the maternity ward a woman sat groaning on the sidewalk, complaining of severe cramps in her uterus. She had been there for three hours without help.
Another patient, Olinda Carlos, says she has no opinion on the rights and wrongs of the strike.
"I just want to see a doctor. I want to live," she says.