Monrovia – Liberia’s weak health sector further crumbled during the Ebola epidemic and the sector seems to be far from recovery as its most active players – the doctors are threatening to lay down their tools due to government’s failure to pay their salaries.
Report by Al-Varney Rogers alvarney.rogersfrontpageonline.com
“For the past 18 months we have been getting our salary in bits and pieces; we are giving government 72 hours to pay us our three months salaries.
"If the government does not make payment of our salaries, we will take a strike action, we will gather at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the President resides” - Dr. Jonathan Hart, Spokesperson of aggrieved doctors
Doctors from across Liberia have given a 72-hour ultimatum in demand for their over three months’ salary arrears. Failure on the part of government to meet this demand may lead to serious constraints on patients visiting hospitals nationwide.
Hart continued: “If the government does not make payment of our salaries, we will take a strike action, we will gather at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the President resides.”
Shortage of Doctors in Liberia
The Liberia Medical and Dental Council in July this year said there were 298 medical doctors responsible for the 4.5 million populations making the doctor per patient ratio 1:15,000.
The field of specialty is limited.
The LMDC statistics, which were last updated on July 15, noted that there are currently 207 general practitioners, 18 public health specialists, 15 pediatricians, 12 surgeons, 10 gynecologists, 6 ophthalmologists, 8 internal medicine specialists, 6 dentists, 4 family medicine specialists, and 2 orthopedics.
Liberia also only has two radiologists, one pathologist, four psychiatrists, one ear, and throat specialist, one veterinarian, and one dermatologist.
The figures show that the number of doctors is increasing, from the 231 reported last year.
However, the figure is still far from the 1:1,000 doctors to patient ratio recommended by the World Health Organization.
Dr. Lekilay Tehmeh of the LMDC attributed the cause of the poor doctor to patient ratio to the civil war.
He said the turmoil caused most of the doctors to immigrate to other countries.
Among his worries was the fact that “the only pathologist in the country is an Ethiopian and what happens if he leaves.”
Further, Tehmeh said that the lack of doctors made it a challenge to tackle Liberia’s high maternal mortality rate and health emergency issues.
To increase the number of doctors, the Liberian government has taken to recruiting from other African countries.
Dr. Fanta Kibungu, a pediatrician and one of six foreign doctors at the St. Joseph Catholic Hospital told The Bush Chicken that she heard an announcement on the radio requesting for medical doctors in Liberia after completing her medical studies at the University Kinshasa School of Medicine in 2006 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kibungu explained that she and four of her colleagues, while on internships at a teaching hospital in Kinshasa, hurriedly made their way to the Liberia Embassy where they met with Ambassador Jalla D. Lansanah, who confirmed the information.
She said Lansanah helped them with traveling documents after expressing interest in coming to Liberia to work as medical doctors.
Of the 298 doctors listed, 203 are Liberians while 95 are foreign. Out of the entire sum, only 72 are female.
Speaking on behalf of the aggrieved doctors Hart said for the past 18 months they have been experiencing salary irregularities.
Dr. Hart further stated that aggrieved doctors have written the Ministry of Health on numerous occasions and have gotten no positive response.
“We have written the Ministry of Health over and over but they have done nothing.
“We need to have peace of mind in doing what we are doing; I can’t be worrying on diagnosis and be worrying on the payment of my salary.
Dr. Hart said doctors from all of the 15 counties are aware of the plan strike action.
“Today we are about 46 doctors, some of our colleagues are on their way, every doctor is aware and we are together; this is not Montserrado issue, doctors have gathered from all across the country,” Dr Hart added.
The doctors are also calling for roundtable discussion with major stakeholders in the health sector so that all parties can find a lasting solution to the delay in doctors’ salaries.
Liberia has only one medical college which put out between six to 12 graduates each year.
Liberia’s 14-year civil war forced trained professionals, including medical doctors to seek refuge abroad, leaving the country's health and other sectors in shambles.
While the Ministry of Health could not be reached to confirm whether or not doctors were owed salaries, the Executive has urged the Legislature to consider the imposition of additional taxes on alcoholic beverages and GSM Companies.
This, according to the government is aimed at supporting the FY2016/17 National Budget which stands at lump sum of US$600,204,076.00 of which Health US$77.4 million is allocated to health.