Liberia: Heath Workers Dismissal a Costly Election-Year Elementary Gaffe; Timing Calls for Calm on Both Sides

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THE DECISION by the George Weah-led government, instructing Health Minister, Dr. Wilhemina Jallah to carry out the recruit of health workers and fill the vacuum created at various health centers due to the ongoing strike action of the current health workers over salary and other benefits is appalling to say the least.

THE GOVERNMENT, in a statement signed by Minister of Information, Lenn Eugene Nagbe, said the decision is based on the refusal of the health workers to reach a compromise with the government. Therefore, according to the statement, the new recruitment would help fill the void to prevent the sector from collapse.

THE DECISION COMING in an election year marred by a major global health epidemic compounds an already dilapidating dilemma for a nation already handicapped by the lacked of adequate healthcare for its nearly five million inhabitants.

AFRICA’S OLDEST republic has 5,000 full-time or part-time health workers and 51 Liberian doctors.

THE AFTERMATH OF THE DEADLY Ebola outbreak of 2014-2015, resulted in the more than 10,600 cases of illness and 4,800, effectively showing that the Liberian health system was unable to respond effectively to crises.

PRIOR TO THE EPIDEMIC, the sector faced various systemic challenges that facilitated the spread of the virus and impeded countermeasures at all levels.

TODAY, MANY public health facilities on the verge of closure due to the lack of essential drugs and medical supplies.

AT SOME FACILITIES, healthcare workers are complaining over the lack of salaries after working for months and patients are being told to leave the health facilities due to lack of drugs and other medical equipment.

ACROSS AFRICA, in doctors and nurses have been making their voices heard when governments have fallen short of meeting their expectations and paying what they rightfully theirs.

LAST WEEK, some 16,000 resident doctors in Nigeria, including some working at Covid-19 isolation centers went on strike for the second time this year in protest of poor working conditions. Medical staff walked out to show their indignation at limited benefits, with the doctors intending to remain on strike this time until their issues are resolved.

DR. ALIYU SOKOMBA, President of the National Association of Resident Doctors said “It is an indefinite strike until issues are resolved,” he said. “All resident doctors at the Covid-19 centers have joined the strike”. Resident doctors are medical school graduates, who are training to be specialized and they represent a very important part of the Nigerian health care system as the nearly dominate emergency wards.

IN JULY this year, doctors in Sierra Leone, refused to treat COVID-19 patients in a bid to press demands for bonus payments and more protective equipment. The also threatened to suspend care for other patients too if the dispute is not resolved. The doctors stopped handling coronavirus cases after a more than month-long stand-off with the government.

IN AUGUST 2015, Ghanaian doctors embarked on an indefinite strike after saying the government had failed to give them any condition of service despite repeated promises from the administration. The doctors suspended their services after demanding a formal document containing their conditions of service, which they said the government has yet to meet. They also threatened to resign enmasse if their demands are not met. Dr. Justice Yankson, the deputy General Secretary of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), said at the time that the doctors had withdrawn emergency services in government hospitals across the country after negotiations with officials of the administration faltered. 

IN NOVEMBER 2018, a union representing healthcare workers in Côte d’Ivoire staged a five-day strike on Monday, November 5, affecting 90 percent of public health centers. The strike was a result of failed negotiations with the government regarding wages and housing allowances. Two-thirds of the industry’s workforce participated in the strike, including nurses, midwives, and administrative staff.

THE WAVE OF PROTESTS across the African continent is prompting governments to find innovative ways to deal with the saga of healthcare workers.

IN LIBERIA, BOTH the government and the healthcare workers should find a way to address the issue.

ON THE ONE HAND, putting qualified and experienced healthcare workers out of work and bringing in unqualified and inexperienced ones, would not bid well for the immediate future of healthcare in an already vulnerable nation.

ON THE OTHER HAND, protesting in the midst of a major pandemic puts a lot of vulnerable patients at risk. What is needed now is calm on both sides of the aisle. 

THIS IS WHY it is important for all stakeholders to find common ground for the sake of humanity and keep the sector moving.

THE FATE OF many ailing Liberians is at stake and the future of the sector is in peril unless common sense prevails, and the genuine concerns and issues of the healthcare workers are speedily addressed.

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