Volunteers, soldiers help at S.African hospitals as nationwide strike hits government services

By Eric Naki, AP
Friday, August 20, 2010

Army medics help hospitals during S.African strike

JOHANNESBURG — Army doctors were working at government hospitals and some patients were being sent home Friday as a nationwide civil servants’ strike, now in its third day, took a toll on public services.

Defense spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said army medical teams were working at three hospitals in Johannesburg and at two hospitals in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province. The teams were providing a variety of services during a strike that also has hit schools, courts and other government departments.

Mandla Sidu, spokesman for the health department in the province that includes Johannesburg, said the department had been “inundated” with offers of help at hospitals after a plea went out for volunteers. Those without medical training were put to work serving food and cleaning floors, while retired nurses were providing care, he said.

Sidu said 90 percent of staff in the province’s 46 hospitals wasn’t at work Friday. Some were on strike, some were afraid of being confronted by angry co-workers on the picket lines, he said.

Private hospitals were taking some of the sickest patients.

Government spokesman for the eastern province of Mpumalanga, Lebona Mosia, said hospitals there could handle only emergency cases.

“We are releasing those who are not serious,” Mosia said.

Union officials said their members had been told skeleton staffs should remain on duty. Members were also told not to resort to violence or threats.

Johannesburg police sprayed water cannons Friday at protesters who had started a fire at a side entrance of one hospital, the South African Press Association reported.

Unions are demanding 8.6 percent wage increases and a 1,000 rand ($137) housing allowance. The government is offering 7 percent plus 700 rand ($96) for housing, and has given the unions 21 days to accept the deal.

Associated Press writer Donna Bryson in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

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