Malawi Medics Threaten Stay-Way Over 'Inadequate' Protection in COVID-19 Crisis

Frontline medical workers through Medical Doctors Union of Malawi has asked the Special Cabinet Committee on Coronavirus (Covid-19) to provide several services including providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for those heading into a 'warzone' as the virus pandemic hits.

Health workers across the country are 'taking risks' when it comes to their own health due to the 'inadequate' protection they are being provided with.

In a letter addressed to the chairperson of the Special Cabinet Committee on COVID-19, who is also Minister of Health and Population, Jappie Mhango and copied to President Peter Mutharika, the Union says failure on the part of Government to meet the minimum standards set for the doctors, the Union will inform its members to withdraw labour force.

"Due to the urgency of the matter and in consideration that any delays in implementation of the Union's demands will undermine His Excellency's commitment to COVID-19 National Response, MDUM is urging your office to expedite feedback on the raised issues by 10th April, 2020," reads the letter in part.

The demands include provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) -- full body gear along with N95 face masks, recruitment of additional 168 qualified medical doctors and to increase risk allowance calculated at 70% of basic salary.

The doctors also request that the Government must provide decent accommodation or instead provide non-taxable house allowance (calculated as 40% of the basic salary) and that the doctors should also be entitled to one duty free vehicle every five years.

The Union takes cognizance that when President Mutharika addressed the nation on April 4 to declare the National Disaster, he had demanded the immediate recruitment of health workers and increase in the risk allowance for health workers as some of the measures to curb the virud pandemic.

"The cornerstone of prevention of Coronavirus is to protect oneself and to help prevent its spread others," says the letter. "Doctors have a major role in diagnosing and treating Covid-19 patients.

"Medical doctors are at a high risk of contracting the virus considering that they are on the frontline in managing Covid-19 patients.

"Currently, the public hospitals are out of capacity to purchase the necessary PPEs from their drug budget."

On recruitment of more health workers, the Union says it has been complaining all along on the increase workload due to shortage of medical doctors in public hospitals and that despite the recommended legal working hours of 42.5 per week, they are forced to work up to 60 hours per week.

"The State President realised the importance of recruiting health workers to support the national response to Covid-19."

In asking for the increase in the risk allowance -- which they add should be non-taxable -- the Union says doctors are at the frontline of the Covid-19 outbreak response and as such are exposed to hazards that put them at risk of infection.

"Hazards include pathogen exposure, long working hours, psychological distress, fatigue, occupational burnout, stigma and physical and psychological violence."

In asking for provision of decent accommodation or instead provide non-taxable house allowance (calculated as 40% of the basic salary) the Union also points out that it has realised that in the past years there have been a huge brain drain for medical doctors.

"Every year a number of highly qualified specialists and general practitioners find greener pastures in other countries such as Namibia and Lesotho.

"The brain drain is due to poor compensation and benefits within the Ministry of Health [and] this results in increase in workload for the remaining patriotic medical doctors," says the letter signed by the Union's president, Dr. Collins Mitambo and secretary, Dr. Rumbidzai Mlewah.

It has also been copied to the Chief Secretary to the Government, Minister of Local Government & Rural Development and Secretaries to Local Government, Health and Treasury ministries.

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