Harare/Johannesburg - Zimbabwean riot police beat striking doctors and nurses at a Harare hospital on Tuesday and sent them running for cover in wards, witnesses said, as reports emerged of dozens more dead in a fast-spreading cholera outbreak.
The protest took place at Parirenyatwa general hospital where around 200 doctors and nurses, from that hospital and Harare General hospital, held a demonstration to demand better pay and equipment.
Witnesses told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa they saw police armed with assault rifles, tear gas and batons beat some of the protestors. The protesters carried placards saying: 'We want drugs in our hospital' and 'enough is enough!'
Parirenyatwa, the country's largest hospital, and Harare General are both effectively closed because of a long-lasting strike over pay and conditions by staff.
Observers say the city's health services have effectively ground to a halt as the country's economic disaster accelerates.
The doctors and nurses are demanding to be paid in foreign currency, instead of the near worthless Zimbabwe dollar. They are also demanding the restoration of basic equipment levels.
Syringes, surgical gloves, even toilet paper, are running low or have run out at hospitals across crisis-hit Zimbabwe, where a outbreak of cholera has now spread south to the border with South Africa.
In the southern border town of Beitbridge, 36 people have died in four days of the disease, a local doctor told the state-controlled The Herald newspaper.
The border crossing into South Africa is the busiest in Africa, thronged daily by thousands of poor Zimbabweans either fleeing hardship or stocking up on basic commodities such as soap and cooking oil they can no longer obtain at home.
The town's hospital has cleared out all other patients to make the institution a cholera treatment centre, where 431 people had been admitted and more deaths are expected, The Herald reported.
Independent medical organizations have warned for years that Zimbabwe, which is wracked by hyperinflation, food shortages and a breakdown of basic services, is sitting on a 'cholera time bomb.'
Over 150 are estimated to have been killed in outbreaks of the disease this year.