Zimbabwe's government has sacked more than 10,000 nurses who went on strike on Monday, in an apparently hardline attempt to quell labour unrest.
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga said the nurses had refused to return to work after $17m (£12m) was released to increase their pay.
He chided them for not going back "in the interest of saving lives".
But the extraordinary move may simply be a tactic aimed at forcing the nurses back to work, correspondents say.
Reviving the health sector has been a key challenge for President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who recently agreed to pay rises in order to end a doctors' strike.
"Government has decided, in the interest of patients and of saving lives, to discharge all the striking nurses with immediate effect," said Gen Chiwenga - the former army chief who led the overthrow of long-time leader Robert Mugabe in November - in a statement.
He said unemployed and retired nurses would be hired to replace those who had been sacked.
In response, Zimbabwe's nurses' association said it "taken note" of the move but added that the nurses remained on strike.
'Women give birth on cold floors'
A nurse's experience:
When I joined nursing, I really loved what I was doing. I upgraded to become a midwife hoping things will get better.
We deal with delivery, day in-day out. You find that you are nursing women on the floor. A woman delivers her baby and she goes to sleep on the cold floor with a new-born baby. Two days down the line, that baby dies because of bronchitis or [is again] admitted at the children's hospital.
It's us who are failing these people. That's frustrating, that hurts.
And we can't tell anyone. They fired all of us because they say we are trying to politicise the whole thing. And yet we are just highlighting to them the concerns.
If people were just to come and see how it's like at Harare Central Hospital - it's pathetic. You end up providing sub-standard nursing just because we need to put up a façade that everything is OK.
This Zimbabwean nurse, who did not want to reveal her name, was speaking to the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.