Maputo — Contacts resumed quietly between the Ministry of Health and the Mozambique Medical Association (AMM), which claims to represent the country’s doctors, on Tuesday, the second day of a nationwide doctors’ strike for increased wages.
Cited in Wednesday’s issue of the Maputo daily “Noticias”, the Ministry’s spokesperson, Martinho Djedje, declined to give any substantive details about the Tuesday meeting, merely saying it was intended to seek solutions to the disagreements between the government and the AMM over doctors’ wages.
Meanwhile the two sides continue to give wildly divergent accounts of how many doctors are on strike. The AMM claimed that around 90 per cent of its members (987 doctors and 137 apprentice doctors) were on strike, while the Ministry claimed that more doctors were at work on Tuesday than on Monday.
“There’s a gradual trend for the doctors to return to the system”, Djedje said. “Comparing Monday with today (Tuesday) we note that the situation has not worsened. On the contrary, we see some slight signs of overcoming the situation”.
But because the Ministry was concerned at the effects of the strike, it had decided to call the AMM leadership to a meeting to discuss mechanisms which might lead to a rapid solution.
While the AMM’s figures for how many doctors are on strike may be an exaggeration, visits by reporters to hospitals leave no doubt that the strike is having a serious effect in parts of the country. In Maputo Central Hospital, the country’s largest health unit, patients were waiting much longer than normal to be seen.
In the neighbouring city of Matola, not a single Mozambican doctor was at work at the city’s health centres – basic services were guaranteed by nurses and other health workers. However, at the Infulene Psychiatric Hospital, none of the five doctors stationed there joined the strike.
In the central city of Beira, 16 doctors took part in the strike on Monday, but three returned to work on Tuesday. According to the Sofala Provincial Director of Health, Marina Karagiannes, 12 of the strikers work at Beira Central Hospital, and one in an outlying health centre.
Karagiannes insisted that all the remaining 122 doctors in the province are at work. “Despite the strikers, services remain guaranteed in all health units, including in the districts”, she said. “We have doubled the work load for each doctor to ensure that the patients are seen”. This means that each doctor is doubling the amount of time spent on out-patients.
The situation is rather different in the neighbouring province of Manica, where the number of doctors on strike rose from eight on Monday to 12 on Tuesday. Six of the strikers are from the provincial hospital in the city of Chimoio, while the other six are stationed in the districts of Gondola, Sussundenga, Machaze, Guro and Barue.
According to the independent daily “O Pais”, 21 doctors in the northern city of Nampula joined the strike, 13 of them stationed at Nampula Central Hospital, and eight from the city’s peripheral health centres.
However, the director of the central hospital, Moises Lopes, said that only two senior doctors had not shown up for work on either Monday or Tuesday.
The Nampula Provincial Health Directorate said that two doctors who had joined the strike in the district of Mogovolas and in the port city of Nacala returned to work on Tuesday.
In Zambezia province, the local AMM spokesperson, Lino Mongilicao, told the independent television station STV that he had received threats – including that he would be transferred to the western city of Tete.
But the Zambezia Provincial Health Director accused Mongilicao of lying.
She said he had asked for the transfer to Tete, and volunteered to show STV his letter making this request.
Mongilicao claimed that all the doctors in Zambezia have joined the strike, while the Provincial Directorate says they are all at work.