17 May 2018

Liberia: Doctors Suspend Strike After Govt Commitment

The Liberia Medical and Dental Association (LMDA) in conjunction with the Liberia Medical and Dental Council (LMDC) have temporarily called off their strike that had paralyzed services in government health facilities across the country. The doctors laid down their tools on May 13 against arrears owed interned doctors, low pay of medical doctors and poor working conditions.

The decision to halt the strike followed an agreement signed between the Ministry of Health and the Heath Committee of the House of Representatives, which committed the government to implement the six counts.

Agreement

It was agreed that the list of Doctors on the MOH "ghost" list be sent to the LMDA immediately for verification by the affected Doctors; that all Doctors on the "ghost" list of the Ministry of Health be reinstated on the incentive/salary payroll effective immediately; and that within two weeks, the Ministry of Health makes full payment of arrears of Doctors placed on the "Ghost list" (crediting of their respective account) including May salary.

The remaining counts include the verification and placement of 104 Medical Doctors, who have been working for the Ministry of Health since 2016 but not on the Liberian dollar payroll be adjusted as of July 2018; that the proposed salary increment of Doctors be included in the 2018/2019 Budget; that the Ministry of Health ensure the upgrading of all government health facilities; that the LMDA suspends the 'go-slow' action within 48 hours beginning May 16, 2018 and that the failure on the part of Government herein represented, to adhere to the counts, the LMDA will revert to its 'go slow' action.

In an interview with journalists at the end of the two-day intensive meeting which began on Monday at the Ministry of Health and ended at the headquarters of the LMDA in the compound of the John F. Kennedy Hospital, Health Minister Dr. Wilhemina Jallah said "government will try for the commitment to be achieved.'

For his part, the Chairman on the House's Committee on Health, Saah Joseph said he has attested on behalf of the Legislature to ensure that the commitments are achievable."

Monday's meeting was attended by Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill; Finance Minister Samuel Tweah; chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health, Dr. Peter Coleman; Health Minister Dr. Wilhemina Jallah and Deputy Health Minister Norwu Howard. Those who were in attendance during yesterday's meeting include Health Minister Dr. Weihemina Jallah and Deputy Health Minister Norwu Howard as well as Rep. Saah Joseph, Joseph N. Somwarbi and Byron Zahnwea Brown.

It may be recalled, on Friday, May 11, the LMDA and LMDC announced their 72-hour ultimatum which began on Thursday, May 10, over the arrears of three months incentives for 40 interned doctors and the reinstatement of 46 doctors who were deleted from the payroll and classified as ghosts.

Addressing a news conference, the President of LMDA, Dr. Louise M. Kpoto and the Chairperson of LMDC, Dr. Linda Birch expressed frustration over the removal of the licensed doctors, who have completed internship and are currently in the various counties doing their intensive Emergency Obstetric Care (EmOC).

Shortage of Doctors in Liberia

The Liberia Medical and Dental Council said as of September 2017, there were 339 Medical Doctors responsible for the 4.5 million populations making the doctor per patient ratio 1:15,000.

The field of specialty is limited

The LMDC statistics, showed that there are currently 250 general practitioners, 21 public health specialists, 16 pediatricians, 12 Obstetrician-gynecologists, , 9 internal medicine specialists, 6 dentists, 6 family medicine specialists, 6 ophthalmologists, 4 psychiatrists, 2 orthopedics, 2 emergency medicine specialists, and one of each specialist in dermatology, ENT (ear nose and throat), infectious disease, neurosurgery, occupational health and pathology.

The figures show that the number of doctors is increasing, from the 278 reported last year, but should the dismal conditions of service remain unchanged it appears highly unlikely that qualified doctors will choose to remain in government service and may likely migrate abroad.

Authors

Leroy M. Sonpon, III

Liberia

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