Government Health Workers in Bong County have joined their colleagues across the country to institute an indefinite strike action.
Health workers are demanding employment with the Government of Liberia, improved salaries and better working conditions. They have also called for the resignation of Health Minister, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, and Deputy Health Minister Dr. Bernice Dahn along with Deputy Health Minister for Social Welfare, Cllr. Vivian Cherue.
When the Daily Observer visited the two leading hospitals in the county on Monday, February 17, it was observed that they were virtually empty, with no nurses at present and only a few doctors seen lingering in the corridors in a state of perplexity (confusion).
At the C. B. Dunbar Hospital, our Bong County correspondent was informed by its Medical Director, Dr. Obed Dolo, that there were only six assigned medical doctors catering to the health needs of patients.
Dr. Dolo said there were 25 patients, among them pregnant women, children and mothers, and it was observed by this reporter that children at the neo-natal ward were in their beds without the presence of nurses.
The Daily Observer established that patients were also lying on their sick beds unattended with some screaming in anguish.
The Observer also witnessed family members of patients with economic means chartering vehicles to transfer their relatives with critical conditions to private hospitals such as Du-Side, run and owned by Firestone Rubber Plantation; and the Bong Mines Hospital, owned and operated by China Union.
At Phebe Hospital, it was also observed that some of the more vulnerable patients unable to help themselves were forced to urinate and defecate in their beds because there were no nurses around to provide assistance to them.
The Bong County Health Officer, Dr. Samson Azoakoi, told the Observer that the situation was getting worse by the hour, especially in rural parts of the county where community residents depend heavily on public health facilities.
Dr. Azoakoi added that critical patients at Phebe Hospital were being transferred to two specific rooms that would enable doctors to pay keen attention to them in the absence of nurses.
Meanwhile, nurses in the county told journalists that they would maintain their resolve to continue their strike action until government saw reasons to address their concerns.
Nurses across the country are demanding salary increments and better incentives among other things.
They are demanding an increment of $55 in their salaries, which their leadership in Monrovia has said was “illegally deducted from them since 2010. They have also asked that over 4,000 Health Workers who are serving the Liberian people be formally employed.
“Can you imagine as a B.Sc. holder in Nursing, I earn only US$100, an amount that cannot get anyone by in present day conditions,” a middle-aged nurse, who asked not to named, lamented.
Some of the nurses told the Daily Observer that they were taking home US$150 in 2010 every month, but the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare unilaterally cut it down to US$100 without providing any explanation.
A meeting was held with local officials including Representative Prince Kermue Moye, Superintendent Selena Polson Mappy, some traditional leaders and the striking health workers at the C. B. Dunbar Hospital on Sunday night February 16. The gathering aimed to persuade the health workers to return to work until government dialogued with them and addressed their concerns unfortunately it ended in disagreement.
Bong County Superintendent Selena Polson Mappy told the Daily Observer that she was appealing to the nurses to reconsider their decision and return to work.
The County Administrator told this reporter that her administration was working with stakeholders to resolve the situation.
A human rights activist, Attorney James Saybay, described the nurses’ action as step in the right direction and stressed the need for government to improve the salary of civil servants.
The head of the CSOs, Mr. George Johnson, joined the health workers in calling for the immediate resignation of Health Minister, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, for what he termed as Dr. Gwenigale’s insensitivity to the plights of health workers.
Mr. Johnson explained that the nurses took the decision due to Dr. Gwenigale’s failure to negotiate with them since they raised a red flag more than a year ago.
There have been yet no reports of deaths at the various hospitals and clinics in the county since the nurses began their strike action on Monday in demand of improved salary and better incentives. However, if the workers continue their strike, that may change over the coming days.