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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Doctors suspend strike after State House meeting

11th March 2012

Medical Doctors in public hospitals have unanimously agreed to call off the strike and go back to work, saying they have taken the decision to give President Kikwete ample time to solve their problems.

The dramatic shift came one day after representatives of the Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT), an umbrella organisation for the profession, met with the Head of State at the State House on Friday.

Announcing the move to end the strike yesterday, the doctors also declared that the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Haji Mponda and his deputy, Dr. Lucy Nkya were their biggest enemies.

“This matter was well communicated to the Head of State, that these two heads of the ministry of Health and Social Welfare have failed to deal with matters raised by doctors and they (doctors) have no confidence in them, therefore there is no way we can carry on working together,” MAT Secretary General Rodrick Kabangila underlined.

Kabangula insisted that the doctors’ strike did not aim at making the public experience hardships in accessing medical services but rather it was intended to push the government to improve the health services.

On the demand that the duo (Dr Mponda and Dr Nkya) should be immediately fired so as to pave the way for negotiations, Kabangila said this demand was not a new one as claimed by the government since it was among the eight demands submitted at the beginning of the crisis.

The decisions were announced at the end of a three-hour meeting held at the Don Bosco Hall, Upanga suburb, in Dar es Salaam under chairmanship of MAT President, Dr Namala Mkopi.

Briefing the media, Dr Mkopi said after extensive discussions with the Head of State on Friday during a closed-door meeting, they agreed among other things to call off the strike as well as giving the feedback to their colleagues.

“Doctors have heard the report from our discussion with the President, whom they thanked for showing a good spirit to deal with the current situation especially after he revealed how he was touched by the crisis,” the MAT president told reporters yesterday.

Mkopi affirmed: “Following this decision to end the strike we call upon all doctors to resume work immediately as we pave the way for the President to solve the current crisis.”

But the MAT president was quick to appeal that the move should be well understood among doctors, intoning that there was no show-off aimed at lining up winners and losers.

The main reason for ending the strike is to ensure that while the President works on the current crisis there is a positive atmosphere, which needs that doctors resume work “to rescue the crippled health sector that has suffered major setbacks since early this year.”

Other demands put forward by doctors were an increase of On Call allowance, introduction of risk allowance, reinstatement of housing facility or housing allowance as per Civil Services standing orders of 2004 and 2009, introduction of hardship allowance, transport allowance or loan facility for vehicles, rise of monthly salary, medical insurance, and improvement of medical services to minimise the number of officials who are being treated outside the country.

MAT president Mkopi said President Kikwete assured them during their Friday meeting that he was very aware of the demands from the disgruntled doctors to fire the two ministers but he insisted that he should be given time to act as he may deem fit.

The ending medical doctors’ strike begun on Wednesday March 7 following refusal to fire the Health Minister and his deputy.

As the probable strike loomed, the previous day Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda had addressed a press conference urging the doctors to change their minds as the strike would affect innocent people. He also emphasized that it was impractical for the doctors to compel the President act severely on cabinet ministers.

But on the third day of the strike, the effects were increasingly being felt, prompting the Head of State to hastily call a meeting with Dar es Salaam elders at Diamond Jubilee Hall only to be cancelled and substituted by the meeting with doctors at the State House.

The President was forced to intervene as the nation risked a paralyzed health sector as it relatively was for 17 days when public hospitals medical doctors went on strike from 23rd January onwards.

Then the strike was called off after the Prime Minister announced the suspension of Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Blandina Nyoni and the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Deo Mtasiwa, to permit investigation into allegations facing them.

Early this year President Kikwete stated in an article published in the Global Health and Diplomacy Magazine that: “Maternal and child health are at the top of the list. But we are governments of poor countries. There is a scarcity of medical personnel in Africa. The ratio of doctors to patients in Tanzania is 1:25,000 and the ratio of nurses to patients is 1:23,000. While the ratio in the United States is 1:300.”

He added: “Our government has taken serious measures to address this shortage of health professionals by increasing enrollment in health colleges. In fact, enrollment has increased fourfold over the past three years. In 2007 there were 1,013 students attending health colleges and now there are 6,713. Our goal is to reach 10,000 students by 2015.”

By mid 2011 Tanzania had 4,649 medical doctors and 377 medical specialists but about 80 percent of the specialists were at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam.

As doctors agreed to end their strike the Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (TUCTA) yesterday issued a statement, arguing that if all professional and social groups follow the doctors’ style of calling for their political representatives to resign as a means to settle their demands it is likely the country will be in a shambles.

TUCTA reasons that almost all groups in the country have one or two demands that require the government to address, but demanding a leader, especially a politically responsible cabinet member to resign, is far from being the relevant way to resolve the contentions.

TUCTA sought to make sense of the doctors’ call for the Minister of Health and Social Services Dr Haji Mponda as well as Deputy Minister Dr Lucy Nkya to step down, saying this was an unusual negotiation tactic.

As the major organ for tripartite negotiations between government, employers and employees, TUCTA reiterated their support for the demands of the doctors but faulted their impatience for not allowing the government to work on their claims.

“The fact that the government gave room for discussion with the doctors and formed a committee to closely address their concerns and later went public and promised to handle the demands gave hope that it was willing …the doctors should be patient and give the government time to fulfill their promise,” reads part of the TUCTA statement

TUCTA Secretary General Nicholas Mgaya said that the politicians are not basically the core executives. “These are people who know nothing technical about what the doctors really want. They are just politicians, receiving reports and advice from their subordinates such as the ministry’s Chief Medical Officer. ”

He said when particular leaders like ministers resign, in most cases it doesn’t mean they are directly involved or have anything to do with the misconduct, they are simply practising collective responsibility.

Mgaya cited the example of former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi who resigned as Home Affairs Minister in the First Phase Government after his subordinates made serious mistakes, saying “Mwinyi’s decision was clearly not arising from his own mistakes, thus he later ascended to the presidency.”

Mgaya said he didn’t see any reason for doctors to hold the ministers accountable and advised they should instead put more emphasis on the needs related to their employment and working conditions.

TUCTA warned though that when civil servants are ready for “whatever may come,” it is not a good sign for the nation and the situation sends a message that there are two social groups in the nation, namely the exploiters and the exploited

As the umbrella union appealed to doctors through the media to resume duties at health centres, the doctors were also holding a meeting with the media at the Don Bosco centre following the audience of MAT with President Jakaya Kikwete yesterday.

• Meanwhile, as doctors were meeting to announce their resolution following their meeting with President Kikwete, a handful of them showed up in some hospitals in Dar es Salaam and attended to patients who needed emergence service.

• At Ilala hospital, a few patients who spoke to The Guardian on Sunday admitted to have been treated but said only a few doctors were present compared to the days when there was no strike.

• Dr Christopher Mnzava, head of emergency unit, said: “We are attending to referred patients and doctors continue to come…the situation is not as bad as some media are reporting. If you say the situation is critical, then tell us the number of deaths.

• “But I allow you to go to the mortuary and observe the situation by yourselves.”

• At the mortuary, the medical attendant Yolanda Wana said the number of deaths is much like that of any other day when we receive a maximum of five bodies. He added: “Yesterday there were ten bodies because relatives had not picked them up.”

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