This week on Wednesday, doctors finally honoured their pledge of striking, after the President refused to implement their demand of sacking the Minister for Health, Dr Haji Mponda and his deputy, Dr Lucy Nkya.
Last Saturday, the doctors issued a 72-hour ultimatum to President Kikwete urging him to fire the minister and his deputy. According to the doctors, the minister and his deputy have been a stumbling block against the implementation of their demands, which among other things include better pay and appropriate working conditions.
Early last month the doctors issued similar condition requiring the government to fire the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Madam Blandina Nyoni and the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Deo Mtasiwa.
The government, which was cornered by the striking doctors, finally bowed and suspended the two senior officials at the ministry, a move that temporarily, if dramatically, ended the strike.
We fully understand the poor working conditions of doctors and nurses but it is not just the doctors who work in poor conditions or are poorly paid in this country. Teachers work in very tough conditions, and so do police officers, and other categories of civil servants.
We fully understand the importance of the medical profession in everyday life and we are equally concerned by the worsening situation in the health sector.
What we don’t understand is demanding better pay at the expense of the very poor Tanzanians whose taxes were used to educate our striking doctors. The strike should have been the last option after all means to address each of their demands have failed.
The strike hurts mainly those poor Tanzanians who can’t afford to pay expensive medical bills at private hospitals. It kills those who can’t afford to fly to India, South Africa or Germany for an in-depth medical examination.
In this case, the government was willing to negotiate with doctors through their representatives and promised to seal a deal at the end of the discussion. Surprisingly, while the negatiations were still going on, the doctors came up with a fresh condition, demanding that the minister and his deputy should be sacked.
In issuing this ultimatum to the President of the United Republic, the doctors lacked wisdom because they have no jurisdiction or power to order the head of state. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge. Everybody has knowledge, but to apply that skill you need wisdom.
There’s no credible evidence that the minister and his deputy are the cause of the current doctors’ woes. The two were appointed to head the ministry in the end of 2010 after the general election.
The ministry spends according to what has been allocated to it through the Treasury during the annual budget. With the current economic environment where the budget performance is bad due to a number of factors, what the Ministry of Health receives is not what it sought.
This was the case for the Ministry of Energy and Minerals early last year, when it was given below what it required at the time when the country was plunged into total darkness due to lack of power generation ability.
Doctors’ problems have been there at least since 1992, and there have been a number of strikes, but unfortunately, these strikes have never yielded positive results. Since the doctors formed a team to negotiate with the government, we at The Guardian on Sunday strongly believe this is the best option to reach an acceptable arrangement.
In return the government should also honour and nurture its promise in ensuring that doctors get what they deserve according to available resources. There’s no development in a country where the health sector is crippled mainly because of meager budget allocated to the sector.