Zimbabwe's state-employed junior doctors and nurses are on strike for higher pay, putting further strain on the country's crumbling public healthcare facilities.
Doctors and nurses have staged a series of strikes in recent years as their salaries have been steadily eroded by the world's highest inflation rate - currently officially running at about 8,000 percent in Zimbabwe.
Thousands more continue to abandon the country in search of better-paid jobs in South Africa, Britain and Australia, hitting a sector burdened by shortages of drugs and the effects of HIV and AIDS.
Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said yesterday the government was negotiating with the doctors and nurses.
"We are talking to them as we have always done through the Health Services Board and we hope to reach some agreement soon," Parirenyatwa said.
Doctors earn 60 million Zimbabwe dollars a month ($2,000 at the official rate but US$30 on the widely used parallel market) and nurses half that amount.
Student and army doctors and nurses were trying to fill in during the strike.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's government has barred health workers, and those from other essential services, from striking but doctors and nurses have often defied the directive.
Representatives of doctors and nurses were not immediately available for comment but a Reuters correspondent saw some patients being turned away early yesterday at Parirenyatwa Hospital, the country's largest referral medical center.
"I have been told to try again in the New Year. There are no doctors," said Martha Magaya, who had brought her 7-year-old son with a cold. "Should my son die because people are arguing over pay?"