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Strike closes Botswana hospitals

Botswana’s biggest hospital was shut down yesterday (Thurs) after a walkout by 300 staff.

The workers were protesting after fellow doctors, nurses, pharmacists and cleaners were sacked earlier this week for breaking a court order to join a month-old strike. Workers who have had no pay rise for three years were asking for a 16 per cent rise when the strike started.

Most of Botswana’s other hospitals and clinics have already closed as health workers nationwide have also walked off the job in a campaign which threatens to paralyse health care in the south African country where one in four adults has HIV.

There are long queues of people waiting outside the Princess Marina Hospital in the capital, Gaborone with patients coming back day after day to try and get treatment  "Our slogan is an injury to one is an injury to all. Since the government has decided to fire our colleagues, we have also decided to join the strike and mobilise other health personnel to do the same so that hospitals are left with no doctor or nurse," said Odirile Bakae, a doctor at Princess Marina hospital.

"Since the government has decided to fire our colleagues, we have also decided to join the strike and mobilise other health personnel to do the same so that hospitals are left with no doctor or nurse," he told Agence France Presse. "We have started a war which we must win and by Friday we would make sure that no service is provided in health facilities," he told local media.

Botswana, the world’s biggest diamond producer, was hard hit by the global economic crisis, which triggered a sharp fall in sales. Public workers say their buying power has plunged after inflation hit 8.5 per cent in March.

In the latest talks the government lowered its pay rise offer from five to three per cent from September, saying that it has no money. Unions were quick to reject the offer. "We don't know why they have gone down from five to three percent and we don't care, because all we want is our 16 per cent," said Public sector union representative Goretetse Kekgonegile.

And the strike looks set to continue as talks between the government and public sector unions broke down last night, said a BBC correspondent. The unions are now asking for a 12 per cent wage increase and for all sacked workers to be reinstated.

Botswana once had the world's highest rate of HIV-Aids infection and now has one of Africa's most-advanced treatment programmes. Anti-retroviral drugs are easy to get hold of. But the UN says more than one in three adults in Botswana are infected with HIV or have developed Aids. The disease has orphaned many thousands of Botswana’s children.

Hayley attribution