The New Dawn (Monrovia)

24 February 2014

Liberia: The Health Crisis - Only the President's Intervention

editorial

Public medical facilities throughout Liberia may continue to remain paralyzed due to the inability of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and Health workers to find the most minimum common ground in the ongoing crises between them. While authorities of the ministry continue to remain adamant to the minimum demands of the health workers before suspending their strike action, the health workers appeared very uncompromising- a crisis that may now be resulting in deteriorating conditions or near-death at the various hospitals and public centers across the country.

As if not even bothered by the strike action, authorities of the Health Ministry have reportedly ordered the John F. Kennedy Administration to immediately deploy (beginning Monday) in-coming senior students of the Tubman National Institute of medical Art or TNIMA at the various public health centers to help the situation. Despite separate interventions last Wednesday and Thursday by members of the Liberian Senate, which many thought would have remedied the situation, the health workers vowed to continue their action unless their "minimum demands" were met in 24 hours-something Minister Walter T. Gwenigale and deputies may not have been prepared to honor.

At the meeting with the President Pro-Temp of the Liberian Senate, Senator Milton Findley of Grand Bassa County and other members, held in the joint chambers of the Capitol Building, the striking workers vowed not to accept the Senators' appeal to return to work in the absence of the failure of the Health Ministry and the Government of Liberia to meet some of their demands. The reiterated to President Pro-Tempt Findley and others that before their meeting with them (on last Thursday), they had already met with the Senate's Plenary the day before (on Wednesday) at a special session for hours at which time they were promised that some of their demands would be met within 24hrs, but to no avail.

Among the "minimum demands" made at the Wednesday meeting were the reinstatement of 22 of their colleagues dismissed by Health Minister Walter T. Gwenigale as a result of their strike action, the payment of incentives owed health workers for the month of January, as well as the payment of salaries and incentives for the month of February into their various accounts, among a few others.

The senators admitted that the Legislature has been dragging on the issue since raised by the health workers in February of 2013, having promised to give the issue major priority. The workers, through their Secretary General and spokesman, George Williams, told the senators that previously, they had a letter written to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf emphasizing the need for her to take action, but to no avail, expressing fear that if they give in without some of their demands being addressed, it could hamper their advocacy and lead to their dismissal.

"What do you want us to do senators; this matter was before you for one year, and nothing has been done to address it; now you are pressuring us to go back to work. Why can't you put pressure on Dr. Gwenigale to write and sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will address this issue? Do you want us to die? We are prepared to go to prison; but we cannot revert to our decision- we will only go back to work if these demands are met," Secretary General George William told the Senators last week during a meeting.

While in Lofa County recently, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appealed to striking health workers to return to work in the interest of humanity- appeal to which the workers adhered as a mark of respect for their leader. In continuation of such intervention, we are of the fervent belief that President Sirleaf could hold similar meetings with the leadership of the National health Workers Association of Liberia to listen to the issues raised by the striking workers for redress.

While the striking workers may be aggrieved, the President intervention could also bring relief not only to the health workers, but also the sick at the various medical facilities across the country. We are of the fervent belief that with the President's constructive engagement with the striking workers with the necessary immediacy, a common ground would immediately be found. Only the President's positive intervention to do the trick, not the Senators'-not Gwanigale.

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