Heed the Concerns of Striking Health Workers, Mr. President, Empathize With Them!

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Just where in the world are health workers recruited off the streets to fill vacuums created by striking health workers? In other parts of the world, Africa included, one usually hears of governments sending military doctors and related personnel, at least temporarily, as stop-gap measures to alleviate the situation created by striking health workers.

In Liberia, President Weah’s response to striking health workers was to order the Minister of Health to replace them with new recruits. This includes doctors, nurses, physician assistants, laboratory technicians, x-ray and dental health workers, nurses aides, etc. But for heavens sake, the Minister of Health is fully aware that it is impossible at this given moment in time to find adequately trained and qualified manpower to replace striking health workers.

For a government struggling to meet basic payrolls including that of striking health workers, just where is the money going to come from to pay newly recruited health workers assuming that there was ready availability of trained health workers. The Liberia Medical and Dental Council (LMDC) has since made meaningful proposals — a win-win package so to speak — which has been outrightly rejected by Health authorities.

The striking workers have, for instance, singled out GoL’s non-payment of hazardous duty allowances and the non-provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to frontline workers. And they are fully aware of donor contributions to assist health workers in this regard; besides they appear to have a gut feeling that health authorities or other higher-ups have simply eaten the money.  

It can be recalled that the Daily Observer, commenting on developments in its editorial dated June 18, 2020 observed that at least 13.7 percent of all of Liberia’s confirmed COVID-19 cases were health workers. This meant that these workers were most at risk owing to their exposure to infected individuals at the various health centers around the country.  

Unlike the Ebola outbreak where health professionals were placed firmly in charge of the response effort, the COVID-19 response effort was placed in the charge of non-health professionals and the disastrous effects were soon felt. In short, the official response of the Liberian government to the COVID-19 outbreak has been haphazard to say the least and has been blighted by corruption involving top officials of government including possibly the involvement of health authorities.

Also during the 2014 Ebola response effort, health workers were provided with Protective Personal Equipment (PPEs) and were provided financial incentives (hazardous duty pay) for their exposure to hazardous life-threatening conditions. While donor support was provided to cater to health workers as part of the anti-COVID-19 response effort, the money did not trickle down to the deserving recipients. Instead the money found its way into private pockets and, lest we fool ourselves, health workers are fully aware that government officials have eaten the money.

But part of the blame also lies with the International Monetary Fund which has recommended the imposition of stringent austerity policies that emphasize deep cuts in social spending especially deep cuts in the country’s health and education budgets. The effect of these policies as well as runaway public sector corruption are having a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary Liberians. Liberians seem to resent this and this can partly explain reasons for the protest vote against the CDC candidate that brought opposition politician Darius Dillon to the Senate.

One classic example of the IMF’s recommendations to cut public sector wage bills is the compulsory retirement of health workers whose replacement the Government of Liberia is unable to provide. This decision to lay off health workers is coming at a time when the health sector is facing critical shortage of nearly everything ranging from adequately trained and qualified doctors, nurses and allied personnel and essential drugs, medicines and medical supplies.

The John F. Kennedy Hospital, the nation’s largest referral hospital has for all intent and purpose, been transformed from a public health facility to a private health facility where access to medical services is based on ability to pay the very high fees charged.

But the health workers are not alone as other public sector employees are also making similar demands. Employees from the Legislature as well as from the Judiciary have all threatened strike or go-slow action in demand of unpaid wages and better conditions of service. What officials of this government fail to realize is that the big stick approach used by former President Sirleaf when she ordered the dismissal of the leaders of striking health workers who former Health Minister Walter Gwenigale swore never to reinstate.

But that was then and what President Sirleaf was able to get away with, this government may very well be unable to get away with same. Conditions have since changed and may never again be the same. The protest action by health workers could not have come at a worse time for a government fighting tooth and nail to salvage prospects for victory at the December polls and as well rebrand its fledging quest for a second-term quest.

Health authorities response to the striking workers has been very callous and, rather than helping to defuse the situation, it is inflaming passions and worsening an already bad situation. Health workers are being told that government does not have money to address their concerns, yet they are seeing officials of this government spending loads of cash (newly printed Liberian dollar banknotes) on buying and trucking voters. First Lady Clar Weah and Presidential Protocol officer, Finda Bundoo have been seen recently at the Kendeja Elementary school VR center, distributing wads of cash to prospective voters.

The GoL, particularly President Weah, should listen to the concerns of the Liberia Medical and Dental Council (LMDC). Threatening to replace striking health workers and retiring medical doctors at age 65 is a very short-sighted policy, given the very critical shortage of trained medical personnel. He should not lose sight of the likelihood that the health workers strike, if not handled with care, could snowball into wider strike action involving other sectors that could paralyze the economy and place the future of this government in jeopardy.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Editor, just where in the world AMID AN INHERITED DETERIORATED ECONOMY “the leadership of workers, not to talk about health workers go about putting the lives of patients in grave danger .by demanding AN IMMEDIATE unionization for health workers, and a very quick standardized pay-grade and increment in salaries for more than 9,000 health workers at an estimated cost of US$15 million per annum”?.

    Are such actions not violative of the code of ethics of the health profession? Or according to you the code of ethics of health workers do not prioritize saving lives over financial desires?,

    Anyway, for you since you are of the belief that your subjective desires must take precedence over your journalist principles and code of ethics, your politicized and opposition advocacy disinformation must take precedence over or at least replace reason, truth, and reality.

  2. Defenders of news article writers often tell us that the writers deserve no condemnation or blame because it’s the writers’ job to report the news. Unfortunately, what the defenders of news reporters do not say is that a news writer should report news without being biased against the state, its leaders or its people. Frankly, it’s the responsibility of news writers to report the news without their biases kicking in.

  3. Speaking of the IMF, the IMF does what it normally does with nations that cannot get their acts together. Using the tailor-customer analogy: An old saying in Liberia concerning the tailor and his customer is a customer should always take precaution in prescribing what measurements the tailor should use in sewing his/her clothes. Why? The tailor, as the professional, knows what measurements fit the customer anyhow. Nevertheless, if a customer chooses to go his way or her own way, the tailor will go ahead and perform his duties as the customer wishes. Consequently, the negative fallout from the customer’s appearance will not be blamed on him. Instead, the faults will be the customer’s because he did not yield to the tailor’s professional advice.

    Such is the case with Liberia and the IMF. It is a country that has been chronicled as one of the poorest countries in the world. Liberia is not a case study that that is new to the IMF. Policy recommendations after policy recommendations, studies after studies, and reports after reports have been published by the IMF on Liberia, and they revealed one of the major factors that have contributed to the glaring poverty among the populations and have led to its chronic underdevelopment, has always been unbridled corruption.

    Other countries within the West African region have also subscribed to the borrowing of World Bank loans and have used such loans prudently by investing them into projects that brought maximum returns on their investment. No governments are perfect but at least they can boast of having some functional economic infrastructures as proof to their citizens of what they are doing with the nation’s monies.

    On the other hand, Liberia continues to remain an outlier when compare to those countries in resource planning, implementation, and the achievement of national objectives in spite of the continuous influx of World Bank loans.

    The late Prince Nico Mbarga, an African musicologist and philosopher in his own right, once said in some of the powerful lyrics of his songs, “As you make your bed, so shall you lie in it.” And if I may borrow from this witty saying, I say, as Liberia makes her bed, so she is lying on it!

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