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Reuters New Media
Zambia Fires Strike Doctors, Appeals for AIDS Help
Lamba Simpito
July 20, 2000
LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia on Tuesday sacked 200 striking doctors at a time when the country is struggling with an AIDS crisis, a doctors' representative body said.

Dr Jonathan Tembo of the Resident Doctors Association dismissed a government assertion that "retiring" the doctors was in the public interest.

"At a time when Zambia faces a severe shortage of doctors and other medical staff, it has retired 200 doctors, citing public interest. We must wonder which public," Tembo said on the sidelines of a Consultative Group meeting between Zambia and its foreign donors.

The doctors went on strike in December over a range of grievances, including low pay, poor sanitation in hospitals, a lack of paramedic staff and a shortage of medicines.

Health Minister David Mpamba promised to deal with their complaints, but later ordered them to go back to work or lose their jobs.

Mpamba told the donors' meeting that Zambia was being overwhelmed by an AIDS crisis and was struggling to find the cash to cope with it.

"There is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic," Mpamba said.

He said expensive servicing of Zambia's $6.5 billion external debt burden meant there was no money for health programmes or to train teachers and other professionals needed to replace those killed by the AIDS virus.

Government statistics show that 1.1 million out of 11 million Zambians, including 100,000 children, have HIV or AIDS. Some 700,000 Zambians have already died of AIDS.

Tembo said only 350 doctors remained in Zambia's public health institutions. The doctor to patient ratio in the country is one to 10,900. Government statistics show that 1.1 million out of 11 million Zambians, including 100,000 children, have HIV or AIDS. Some 700,000 Zambians have already died of the disease.

By 2002, at current rates of infection, 1.6 million Zambians will be living with HIV or AIDS and 700,000 children will be orphaned, according to Mpamba's data.

Mpamba asked foreign donors for special cash packages directed specifically at the campaign against HIV and AIDS, which he said was the biggest security and economic threat to three decades of development in Zambia.



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