MINISTRY of Health Permanent Secretary for Technical Services Professor Luckson Kasonka says there is no policy to the effect that government can only priotise health workers working on voluntary basis for employment.

Commenting on the Zambia Medical Association (ZMA) statement in which it opposed voluntary internship for Doctors, Prof Kasonka said the statement was misplaced.

“That statement is misplaced and it is double standard. Obviously, the Zambia Medical Association wanted to show their members that they are working, they have added their voice to this. They are saying they have got 700 doctors waiting, so we are saying how many are supposed to be recruited as health workers, 11,000. 700 is a small number compared to 11,000. That statement is not a policy statement, it is something that the minister (Sylvia Masebo) mentioned in passing when she was answering a press query,” Prof Kasonka said.

“When she went visiting in Kitwe, she found that some of the nurses were working but they had not been employed. They were working not that we told them to work but [they] themselves said ‘I am a nurse, I am qualified, not employed. If I sit at home, cook nshima, I will forget how to give an injection. So, in order for me to sharpen my skills, let me go for example to Kitwe Central Hospital to practice’.”

He explained that nurses and doctors were the ones offering services on a voluntary basis and that the Health Minister was simply encouranging them when she stated that government would prioritise volunteering health workers when employing.

“So, it is not us as a ministry who have been asking them to work and volunteer, no. In fact, we have resisted that but nurses and practitioners have said we want to work so that we improve our clinical practice. Even Journalism, when you stop practicing you forget the skill isn’t it? So, it is the nurses and the doctors who have been coming up to say ‘we want to practice so that when we are finally recruited, we will be sharp with our skill’. And the minister was trying to console them that ‘don’t worry, we know about those of who are doing volunteer work, we shall pick you and recognize your sacrifice when we start recruiting, we shall look at you’,” said Prof Kasonka.

“But of course, ZMA took it in a different way that we are encouraging people to go and volunteer as a basis for recruitment. So there is no policy that we will get those who are volunteering no. The minister was basically giving an encouragement to those who had been sacrificing out of their own decision, that we will look at them, we will prioritise them because they are already in the system except, they are not being paid. And then of course she said others as long as the number and budget allows. So, there is no policy that we will get only those who have been volunteering, no.”

In a statement, Saturday, ZMA Secretary General Dr Kaumba Tolopu argued that prioritising volunteering health workers for employment would force doctors into offering their services for free, and potentially paved way for a system in which government was not obliged to pay doctors for their work.

“ZMA notes with alarm, the rhetoric from Ministry of Health officials that appears to ask trained doctors to volunteer their hard-earned skills in government facilities, without salaries and with no clear roadmap to fair and reasonable employment. ZMA is further dismayed to hear government’s proposal to engage the punitive approach of prioritising for employment, those who agree to volunteer in government facilities, even over doctors who have been waiting for much longer. This move functionally strong-arms doctors into offering their services for free, and potentially paves the way for a system in which government is not obliged to pay doctors for their work,” stated Dr Tolopu.