A number of doctors have been involved for several months in an on/off strike in Tanzania demanding improvements in the health service in the country and in their remuneration. The media, in what may have been an exaggeration, wrote that the strike had ‘paralysed health sector operations in all major public hospitals.’ From the beginning the government has taken a hard line. It is believed to have sacked some doctors, brought in doctors from outside the country and firmly rejected the strikers’ demands.
There was considerable shock when Dr Steven Ulimboka, chairman of the Interim Doctors Committee and spokesperson for the doctors, was abducted, tortured and left for dead at the Pande forest in the northern precincts of Dar es Salaam. His injuries were so serious that he had to be moved to South Africa for six weeks to recover and did not return to Tanzania until August 12. He was reported in the media to have ‘failed to hold back tears’ when relatives, friends, activists and hundreds of other people welcomed him back at Dar Airport.
There is some mystery as to who kidnapped and tortured Dr Ulimboka. The Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT) Secretary General, Dr Rodrick Kabangila, said the Association was pleased with the recovery and return of one of their members. “His homecoming might also shed light on what actually happened and the persons who did what they did to him… we might know the truth eventually, regardless of the police reports on the arrest and charging of one man in connection with his tribulations.”
On July 7 religious leaders held prayers for Dr Ulimboka and asked President Kikwete to form an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the abduction and torture. They also called for the immediate resumption of negotiations between the government and striking doctors to end the standoff. The clerics urged the government to drop the case it had filed at the High Court against the doctors before talks could resume.