Mozambican doctors launched a five-day strike on Monday over pay and working conditions.
All medical care, except for emergency services, has been affected after talks broke down with the government.
Speaking to the AFP news agency, Jorge Arroz head of Mozambican Medical Association (AMM) said: “We’re on strike for five extendable days until the government meets our demands.
“The strike is the ultimate tool by which the doctors can be better served, though we ensure that emergency services are functioning.”
However, the Ministry of Health has declared the strike illegal as the AMM is a professional body rather than a trade union, and only trade unions have the right to call a strike in Mozambique.
In addition, strike action by public sector workers is against Mozambican law. As a result, the Ministry of Health has vowed to dock the pay of striking doctors.
Local media has reported that doctors were demanding a basic wage of 90,000 meticals (US$3,000) while the government was offering a maximum monthly wage of 38,000 meticals (US$1,200).
The doctors are also said to be calling for equal access to government-assisted housing, which they claim favours foreign medical workers.
The strike was first announced in December, but was postponed while negotiations took place between the doctors and the government.
In smaller medical centres, health technicians and nurses are said to be providing basic services and care.
And while military doctors have been deployed, an AFP journalist at the country’s largest hospital, Maputo Central, said that patients on Monday were forced to queue for hours.
“Since I arrived this morning, at 7 o’clock, I could see that the consultations were very slow,… but I am sick so I had to come”, 46-year-old Tenday Nhica told reporters.
Maputo Central Hospital chief Domingos Diogo told AFP that while he supported the doctors’ demands he doesn’t condone the strike.
“Nobody said they were not right to ask for better conditions.” But the strike action was not justified, he said.
Mozambique has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
In its latest assessment of the country’s economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised its forecast for economic growth to 7.5 per cent in 2012 and 8.4 per cent in 2013.
However, poverty remains high, particularly in rural areas where 70 per cent of the population lives.
In 2009, the gross national income per capita was just US$381.8, although this figure was up from US$286.6 in 2005.
Mozambique has a total of 1,200 doctors in both public and private practice countrywide, a ratio of one doctor to 22,000 Mozambicans.
In comparison, the doctor-to-patient ratio in Italy is 165 – the lowest in the world.