Doctors Suspend Strike With Preconditions

MONROVIA, Montserrado – On Tuesday, May 15, several protesting doctors from across the country converged at a building that hosts both the Liberia Medical Dental Council and the Liberia Medical and Dental Association to discuss whether to continue an ongoing strike over unpaid salaries.

Both organizations had already jointly announced a 72-hour ultimatum to the government to pay over three months’ salaries and incentives for 40 interning doctors.

They had also demanded the reinstatement of 46 doctors whose names they say were mistakenly deleted from the payroll as ghost workers in a payroll cleansing exercise. The ultimatum began on Thursday, May 10, the doctors announced.

Prior to the doctors’ meeting, visits by The Bush Chicken to the John F. Kennedy Medical Center and Redemption Hospital observed that the strike had paralyzed normal working.

The outpatient departments at both hospitals were closed, which is normally not the case. But Amara M. Kamara, JFK’s public relations officer, insisted that the hospital was not affected by the doctors’ protest and that “the hospital’s doctors are on duty.”

However, Kamara did not provide any detail on the number of the doctors employed by the JFK Medical Center, although he said the protesting doctors were employed directly by the Health Ministry and not by the autonomous hospital.

At 11 a.m., the protesting doctors gathered at their conference hall and after an hour, according to one medical doctor who spoke the basis of anonymity said a consensus was earlier reached to continue the protest.

Some of the protesting doctors were seen wearing t-shirts emblazoned with inscriptions such as “Doctor are Life Savers.”

The doctors then met with government officials, including Rep. Saah Joseph of Montserrado’s 13th district, who chairs the House Committee on Health. Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah was also present at the three-hour meeting, which resulted in an agreement between the doctors and the government.

Rep. Saah Joseph, who chairs the House Committee on Health, attended the meeting between doctors and government officials. Photo: Zeze Ballah

Jallah told journalists that the doctors’ issues were genuine but noted that the George Weah government had inherited problems from the past administration. She said government officials had listened to the protesting doctors and agreed to comply with the deadlines they set.

“The doctors are an important part of the health system in the country,” she said, pledging to work with the Finance Ministry to ensure that the doctors’ concerns are addressed. “The issue of ghost names has been sorted out.”

The health minister expressed optimism that the doctors would return to work within 48 hours, especially since requirements such as salary increments needed to be placed in the 2018/2019 budget, which would only be effective in July.

Dr. Jonathan Hart, the secretary general of the Liberia Medical and Dental Association, read a statement on behalf of the two groups detailing the terms of the agreement between the government and the doctors.

The doctors agreed to suspend their strike beginning on May 16 and reserved the right to reinstate the strike if the government did not accomplish the following:

  1. The list containing names of doctors described as ‘ghost’ should immediately be sent to the LMDA for verification by the affected doctors.
  2. All doctors on the Health Ministry’s ghost list should be reinstated on the incentive and salary payroll with immediate effect.
  3. The Health Ministry should with two weeks make full payment of arrears of doctors whose names appeared on the ghost list by crediting their respective accounts and that of May
  4. Verification and placement of the 104 medical doctors who have been employed with the ministry since 2016 should be completed by July 2018.
  5. The proposed salary increments for doctors should be included in the 2018-2019 budget
  6. The ministry should ensure it upgrades all government health facilities across the country

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Zeze Ballah

Zeze made his journalism debut as a high school reporter at the LAMCO Area School System. In 2016 and 2017, the Press Union of Liberia awarded Zeze with the Photojournalist of the Year award. Zeze was also the union's 2017 Health Reporter of the Year. He is a Health Journalism Fellow with Internews.

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