Harare: State doctors in Zimbabwe called off a three-week strike that paralysed hospitals “on compassionate grounds”, a union leader said on Monday, after negotiations with the cash-strapped government stalled.

Hospitals in Zimbabwe have been at a standstill since the middle of February with admissions suspended, many wards cleared of patients and non-critical casualty cases turned away after nurses joined the action.

State hospitals cater for the majority of Zimbabweans who cannot afford private hospitals.

The country had one of Africa’s best health care systems, but many health professionals have left during the country’s economic crisis over the last 15 years.

“We have resumed our duties. All the doctors are back at work,” Edgar Munatsi, president of the Hospital Doctors Association, told journalists.

“We came to the decision on compassionate grounds after our meeting with the government failed to address our grievances.

“We were moved by the plight of the suffering patients. The mortality rate in the hospitals was going up and it appeared the government was not concerned.”

No mortality figures were available from the government or the doctors’ union.

The strike centred on demands for higher allowances and job guarantees for junior doctors.

The state-owned Herald newspaper said some allowances had been increased for medical staff.

A correspondent in Harare observed last week that most wards at Parirenyatwa, Zimbabwe’s main state hospital, were empty.

At the Mpilo hospital in the second city of Bulawayo, a small number of senior doctors attended to patients.

President Robert Mugabe, 93, returned to Zimbabwe this weekend after one of his regular trips to Singapore for medical care.

His government has struggled to pay civil servants and soldiers on time, resorting to staggering pay dates as funds runs short.

A planned strike on Monday by public workers over pay and delayed bonuses was postponed by organisers.

Last year, Mugabe’s security forces quelled a series of street protests in Harare against his regime and the country’s dire economic plight.