8 February 2012

Tanzania: Strike - Public Anger Over 'Indecision'

Dar/Dodoma — The ongoing doctors' strike took a dramatic twist yesterday when activists in Dar es Salaam took to the streets to protest what they termed government's failure to address the crisis decisively and avert deaths and suffering.

This comes in the aftermath of a Cabinet meeting that took place in Dodoma on Tuesday evening chaired by Prime Minister, Mr Mizengo Pinda, who then flew to Dar es Salaam the next morning. His office did not, however, give details on the purpose of the impromptu journey.

In Dar es Salaam the activists blocked a section of Ali Hassan Mwinyi Road at the busy Selander Bridge intersection for about an hour before police persuaded them to disperse.

The marchers carried placards that criticised the government, accusing it of indecisiveness in the face of the ongoing doctors' strike as innocent Tanzanians continued to die at Muhimbili National Hospital. However, before they dispersed, the activists from 14 civil society organisations gave the government 24 hours to resolve the crisis. Should the government fail to do to so, they vowed, marchers would return to the streets.

Their placards carried several messages including those calling on President Jakaya Kikwete to fire top official in the ministry of Health and Social Welfare, including Minister Hadji Mponda, his deputy Dr Lucy Nkya, Permanent Secretary Blandina Nyoni and the Chief Government Medical Officer Dr Deo Mutasiwa.

They accused Speaker of the National Assembly Ms Anne Makinda of failing to treat the strike as a matter of national urgency, which the Parliament should discuss. The Speaker and her deputy, Mr Job Ndugai, have turned down numerous requests by MPs to have the House suspend other businesses to debate the doctors' strike.

The marchers were led by the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) and Tanzania Media Women Association (Tamwa).

The executive director of the Tamwa, Ms Ananilea Nkya, who was among the demonstrators, said their march aimed at communicating their displeasure to the government.In Dodoma, the Parliament yesterday recalled its House committee on social services from Dar es Salaam where it had gone to find ways and means of ending the strike.

The National Assembly had assigned the committee to undertake the task after the minister for Health and Social Welfare delivered in the House an official statement on the strike. Sources said members of the committee arrived in Dodoma in the afternoon aboard a charter plane. The Citizen was informed the committee would spend the night compiling a report to be issued in Parliament today.

Meanwhile, other sources said the Cabinet meeting that Mr Pinda chaired on Tuesday gave a number of proposals on how the government should handle the issue.The sources indicated that the PM flew to Dar es Salaam to brief President Kikwete on what had transpired in the meeting.Meanwhile, patients at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) yesterday blamed MPs for mishandling the ongoing crisis.

Speaking during the Parliamentary Committee for Social Services' tour of the hospital, some patients said it was disappointing that MPs could afford to attend parliamentary sessions in Dodoma as people died at MNH for lack of medical attention.The committee visited the hospital to assess the situation after spending two days meeting with striking doctors and other stakeholders.

The move was part of the committee's search for a solution to the strike after holding talks with the striking doctors, interns, Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT), as well as well specialist doctors at Bunge sub offices in Dar es Salaam.

However, after its two-hour visit that ended at 1pm, the chairperson of the committee, Ms Margreth Sitta, declined to divulge any helpful information to the media.

"I said I don't want to speak anything regarding our visit and the strike," she said while making her way to a waiting bus, ready to depart from the hospital.

At the wards, particularly, Sewahaji, patients appealed to the committee to ensure an end to the strike is found as soon as possible. "I request for an end to the strike because it hurts me immensely as I haven't been attended to since I was admitted here four days ago," one of the patients from Tanga Region, who declined to give his name, told Ms Sitta.

A member of the committee, Dr Hamis Kigwangala (Nzega - CCM) described the situation as terrible and called for immediate action from the government."The government's delay in settling the matter means more suffering at the hospital," he said.

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