The police in Dar es Salaam have banned a demonstration scheduled for next Monday by the Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT) in the doctors’ renewed bid to convince the government to take concrete measures to rescue the health sector in the country.
Dar es Salaam zonal police commander Suleiman Kova said at a press briefing yesterday that his office had slapped a ban on the planned march for what he described as security reasons.
“There is no good reason for staging the demonstration because the doctors’ demands and associated issues which are stated in the two letters from MAT are not new and all matters have been dealt with at different levels in which various officials have been involved. This is the time to implement what was agreed upon,” noted Kova.
Kova said his office had also received a letter from the Islamic Media Council seeking permission for them to demonstrate on July 16 (next Monday) in opposition to the doctors’ strike.
Kova said since the two institutions had conflicting objectives it was not possible to okay the demonstrations as there was every sign of breaching the peace.
“ There is also a criminal case in court relating to demonstrations. Hence allowing them to take place now would be contempt of court. We have banned the planned demos under Section 43(1) – (6) of the Police Act, Cap 322 as amended in 2002,” affirmed Kova.
Earlier, the doctors had said at a separate press briefing that they were still bent on staging the demonstration on Monday. The announcement was made at the end of their meeting held at the Korean hall in the city, which was convened to discuss the way forward with regard to the ongoing strike.
MAT officials said that they had followed the set procedure to seek permission for the demonstration and were waiting for the police clearance letter which they were told would be issued late yesterday.
The demonstration was planned to start at Muhimbili National Hospital and pass through Kalenga road, United Nations road, Bibi Titi Mohamed road, Maktaba road and finally to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare head office.
The objective of the demonstration was to press the government towards taking measures to rescue and improve the health sector in the country and galvanise public support for their demands for the government to improve their welfare. At least 1,000 doctors were expected to participate in the demonstration.
Speaking to the media after the meting, MAT General Secretary Dr. Rodrick Kabangila said the association was not satisfied with the way the government had handled the strike.
He noted that MAT condemned the government’s hard stance on some doctors who had their employment terminated, which MAT viewed as both humiliation and exploitation by the government. He said the government move would in no way bring a solution to the prevailing problems.
Kabangila criticized the Medical Council of Tanganyika (MCT) for unfair practices, particularly on its decision to cancel some of the doctors’ licences to practice without according them an opportunity to be heard.
“We were surprised to hear MCT canceling some doctors’ licences before the court issued a verdict. Also the ministry of Health and Social Welfare decided to freeze allowances for interns before the judgment. This is unfair” said Kabangila.
He added that termination of the 400 doctors would have adverse effect on about 12 million innocent and poor Tanzanians who would not be able to get health services.
The MAT secretary general noted further that currently a single doctor attended to 3,000 patients, implying that termination of the 400 doctors would affect 12 million Tanzanians..
Kambangila said at the press briefing that MAT had agreed to meet with the government for discussion in order to have a workable solution to the ongoing strike.
However, he noted that, according to the information reaching them, it seemed the government was not in any mood for further discussion, cautioning that the doctors were unhappy about the situation and were working unwillingly.
“Health services are not well provided in government hospitals and therefore we ask the government to sit together at a roundtable because we know how Tanzanians are suffering” said Dr Kabangila.
He added that a number of doctors and medical specialists had decided to quit their jobs and many others would join the exodus which would result in deeper devastation of the health sector.
Unconfirmed information from the meeting had it that the ors were encouraging each other to remain united on their demands in the interest of the medical profession.
It was also reported that while the government was expecting to receive an apology from the doctors MAT said it would not do so as they did not know what wrong they had done.
“MAT will never apology to the government. We know after all what it has done to our fellow doctors by mistreating them and terminating their employment. We view them as threats, but we won’t apologize” said a doctor at the meeting, according to our source privy to the deliberations of yesterday’s meeting
The doctors were also briefed about Dr Steven Ulimboka, who is undergoing treatment in South Africa after he was kidnapped and seriously beaten up by unknown assailants. They were told that he had sent a mobile phone text message to his colleagues, saying his condition was improving as now he could feed himself and urged them to concentrate on the struggle for their rights and not concentrate on discussing his fate.
One of the anonymous sources said dismissal of the 400 doctors and cancellation of the doctors’ licences were unwise threats by the government because, with the current global scarcity of doctors no country could afford to lose such a huge number of medical professionals at a go.
In a separate development human right activists have called on the international community to intervene in the doctors’ strike.
According to a press statement circulated by the Legal and Human Right Centre (LHRC), the activists called for the international community and human rights organizations to support them in offering advice on how they could further address the doctors’ issues based on their experiences.
They also called on the government to guarantee the security and safety of the doctors and resume negotiations with them so as to resolve the stand-off.
According to the activists, they seek international support following the failure by the government in addressing the long-standing demands by the doctors and the activists to improve the quality of health services in public hospitals.
The media statement added that more that 80 percent of Tanzanians, particularly those in rural area, received medical services from public hospitals.
It added that Tanzania was among countries with the worst doctor-patient ratio of 1:30,000 and more than 54 percent of districts had inadequate healthcare workers.
“It is sad to note that with such a huge human resources gap in the country, the government has sacked 319 qualified medical doctors,” the activists lamented.
The statement added: “The government has responded by using excessive power directed towards the key leaders and the doctors at large. This is considered as a government strategy to silence other doctors and divert public attention from its responsibility to improve health services,” the statement said.