Maputo — The Mozambican Medical Association (AMM), which claims to represent the country’s doctors, has threatened to embark on a five day strike as from 17 December, in pursuit of higher wages and better working conditions.
Although the AMA is describing this as a “general strike”, in fact it will only affect public hospitals, and not the flourishing private sector.
Speaking at a Maputo press conference on Saturday, AMM chairperson Jorge Arroz said the doctors had tried to negotiate over their grievances, sending letters to the government, parliament and the ruling Frelimo Party, but without any results.
“If these demands are not met by 16 December, then on 17 December there will be a general strike of doctors throughout the country for five days”, said Arroz. “This period may be extended if no agreement is reached with the government”.
The AMM says its strike will not cover any emergency services. Doctors will be on hand to deal with any cases in which patients’ lives are at stake. Thus emergency surgery will still be carried out, as will interventions to treat urgent paediatric and gynaecolocial cases.
But all routine work will be shut down. There will be no ordinary doctor’s appointments of any kind during the strike – even appointments for the chronically ill will be cancelled, and no surgery that is no regarded as emergency will be carried out.
The AMM says it has been fighting for a Doctors Statute since 1995, but when the government finally approved such a document last November, doctors rejected it because it was different from the proposals made by the AMM, by the Mozambican Doctors’ Order (OrMM), and even by the Ministry of Health.
Currently, the basic wage of a doctor is 15,000 meticais (around 500 US dollars) a month, rising to around 22,000 meticais a month, when various allowances are included. The draft Doctors Statute from the AMM would have raised doctors’ basic wages to between 50,000 and 107,000 meticais a month. But the statute approved by the government cuts these figures by 44 to 51 per cent. This still leaves the doctors as far and away the highest paid professionals in the health service.
The AMM also wants the Statute to stipulate that the government will pay the rent for doctors’ housing (just as the rent for foreign doctors employed by the health service is already paid).
“It is inconceivable for the government to approve a statute which the beneficiaries don’t known about”, exclaimed Arroz. “What will become of those doctors who have been waiting for this statute and the wage proposal for so long that they are now reaching retirement age? Will they have a decent pension, after so many years of dedication and of saving thousands of life? Is thus the thanks the government gives them? This is not right”.
The doctors say that their housing situation worsened when, in 2008, a ministerial circular was approved limiting the time a doctor can stay in a house provided by the state. This circular is not yet being implemented in all parts of the country, but in Zambezia province the health authorities have given doctors deadlines to leave state-owned houses.
But the doctors say that, under their current situation, they are not able to pay rent for private housing.
They also ask why the state is throwing Mozambican doctors out of public housing, but is willing to pay 70,000 meticais a month for a hotel room and meals for a foreign doctor.
“Why can’t they pay a rent of 15,000 to 20,000 meticais a month to doctors from their own country?”, the AMM asks.
Arroz said that, in the period prior to 17 December, the AMM remains open to negotiations. He added that “the cry for help is also addressed to the Mozambican people: look after those who look after you”.
There are about 2,000 Mozambican doctors, of whom 1,274 are working in the National Health Service.