17 January 2013

Mozambique: Health Minister Urges Nurses Not to Strike

Maputo — Mozambican Health Minister Alexandre Manguele has urged the country’s nurses not to follow the example given by the doctors’ body, the Mozambican Medical Association (AMM), and embark on strike action in protest against low wages and poor working conditions, according to a report in Thursday’s issue of the daily paper “Diario de Mocambique”.

Speaking at a meeting on Wednesday with nurses from Maputo city and province, Manguele said they were quite right to demand better living and working conditions – but this struggle should not be waged at the cost of the suffering of the Mozambican people.

“We cannot expect people to die so that we can live well”, he stressed.

“Staying at home and letting the people die in hospitals is not a good form of struggle”.

“Do not let people suffer or die because your wages are low”, he urged. He appealed to the nurses not to imitate the AMM, which called doctors out on a nine day strike for higher wages, which ended on Tuesday. The AMM pledged to keep all emergency services functioning, but the strike certainly hit other parts of the health service, and increased waiting times at the health units.

The AMM won no specific wage rise – merely a promise that a new wage scale will take effect as from April. The Health Ministry says this offer was on the table before the strike began.

Manguele promised that the new wage scales in April will cover nurses as well as doctors – though the wage increase may not be as large as they hoped.

He suggested that an expansion of “special” and “personalized” treatment in the public hospitals could provide extra funds for both doctors and nurses.

This is an open embrace of a two-tier health system – whereby there will be “special” units for those who can afford to pay. One justification for this is that well-off patients, who might otherwise be treated in private clinics or abroad, will stay in the public system.

Manguele’s approach is diametrically opposed to that of his predecessor, Ivo Garrido, who tried, and failed, to close the “special clinics” in public hospitals.

“Personalised treatment in the public hospitals could help improve our wages, because, even if our salaries are increased, it may not be enough”, he said.

He added that the expansion of these “personalised services” must be well organised and transparent, and that normal care in the public hospitals must continue to improve, so that citizens do not feel that there is a vast difference between the two services.

When nurses demanded to know how large the April pay rise will be, Manguele urged them “to keep calm, because not everything depends on the Ministry of Health. Even the doctors’ strike ended without announcing any numbers, because these are things that are beyond the Health Ministry’s control”.

There was also skepticism as to how much the special clinics would really benefit nurses. One nurse said that nurses who work in the special clinic in Maputo Central Hospital only earn an extra 550 meticais (19 US dollars) a month, while the doctors are paid per patient.

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