Lesotho: Health Professionals' Strike Continues

(File photo).

The nationwide strike by health workers entered its second week after they failed to agree on most of their grievances with the government on Monday.

The strike has left patients stranded and brought the health delivery system to a virtual standstill.

This at a time when health services are most needed to contain the escalating spread of the deadly Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic that had infected 359 people and caused six deaths by yesterday. The figures could be higher as the health ministry last updated its statistics over the weekend.

The health workers have coalesced under the banner of the Coalition of Health Professionals. The Coalition includes doctors, nurses, pharmacists and nursing assistants. They began their strike on 13 July 2020 to protest the government's failure to address their demands for Covid-19 risk allowances and personal protective equipment (PPE) to shield them from the deadly virus.

The health professionals went on strike despite Health Minister Motlatsi Maqelepo's threats to sanction them if they did not abandon what he said would be an illegal job action.

After failing to reach an agreement with Mr Maqelepo and other government officials, the Coalition requested an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro last week. The premier is yet to respond to them.

On Monday, they met again with Mr Maqelepo and other government officials.

Again, there was no breakthrough over their demands for M7000 monthly risk allowances per worker or tax holidays to increase their disposable incomes.

The Coalition's spokesperson Busa Qhala yesterday told the Lesotho Times that they were informed that the government had procured PPE and would soon be distributing it to their members.

He however, said they were still to agree on the risk allowances and general working conditions of nurses.

"We were told that the government has procured PPE," Mr Qhala said.

"We will wait for them to distribute the PPE to us. We hope the process will be transparent. We wouldn't want the equipment diverted or stolen like the previous donation from China."

He said they would meet Mr Maqelepo and other government representatives again today to discuss their unresolved demands.

"We could not agree on the issue of allowances. So, we will meet again on Thursday (today).

"The working environment is not conducive for health workers who have to put up with the cold conditions in hospitals and other facilities. Even patients are subjected to such conditions. Something has to be done about this."

His remarks about the poor conditions at health facilities were in reference to the Berea isolation hospital for Covid-19 patients. Several Covid-19 positive nurses have complained about the cold and lack of hot water at that institution. Their complaints were echoed this week by former Health Minister Dr Mphu Ramatlapeng.

Mr Qhala said the strike would continue until all their demands were met.

"We will continue protecting ourselves (by continuing the strike) against the risk of Covid-19 infections. Our grievances must be addressed before we go back to work.

"People need to understand that we are fighting for a better health system for everyone. Everyone, regardless of their background, needs better health services," Mr Qhala said.

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