Liberia: Healthcare Regulator Rejects Govt Mandate Against Striking Health Workers

As health workers remain adamant in their go-slow action in demand for settlements of some pressing needs including better salaries and hazard benefits, President George Manneh Weah has instructed the Ministry of Health to begin soliciting applications from qualified health workers of various grades, including nurses, nurse aides, midwives, and laboratory technicians amongst others in order to fill the "Temporary" vacancies that have resulted from the strike action.

A release from the Executive Mansion over the weekend mandated: "These applications must be submitted immediately to county health centers, the Ministry of Health, and the JFK, for screening by the MOH."

In a telephone interview with the Daily Observer over the Weekend, Deemi T. Dearzrua, Secretary General of the National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHWUL), described the President's mandate as a joke, intended to exacerbate the situation. According to him, the government's action is not in the true spirit of dialogue and reconciliation.

However, in what could perhaps be considered a more solutions-oriented response to the mandate from the President, the Liberia Medical and Dental Council of Liberia (LMDC) sternly objected to the mandate and described it as "unfair and unjust" to the health workers.

The LMDC is an autonomous body established by an Act in March 2010, with exclusive power and authority to regulate medical practice within the Republic of Liberia. The LMDC is an independent body that collaborates with the Ministry of Health in implementing the National Health Policy.

LMDC recalls that health workers are at the frontline of disaster and pandemic in the country and some have remained there and died, citing the Ebola and COVID-19 as most recent cases that have claimed the lives of many health workers.

"The LMDC calls on the government to seriously attend to the requests of the health workers and not ignore the same as this could adversely affect the entire health care delivery system of the country," the organization through its President, Dr. Linda Birch, said.

"The LMDC is taken aback by this decision when frantic efforts are being made through dialogue to persuade health workers to return to work while trying to find a solution to the impasse. The LMDC sees this action on the part of the Government of Liberia "to recruit qualified health workers of different grades to fill the void in the interim "as a threat to unnecessarily undermine its efforts to ensure that Liberians have access to quality healthcare services irrespective of race, tribe, religious and political affiliation," said the release.

The LMDC raised the red flag that it opposes this decision to replace striking health workers with others because those to replace the striking workers may end up being treated the same way. The health regulating body then called on the government to withdraw the statement which it says is "Tantamount to a threat to the entire health workforce of Liberia including doctors and other health related providers.

"Opting for recruitment will further threaten LMDC/LMDA efforts to save lives that may be unnecessarily lost due to the protracted strike action and must be discouraged," the statement added.

According to the LMDC authority, the statement to the Health Ministry comes at a point when it has begun extensively engaging the leadership of the health workers and the professional bodies and boards to a roundtable meeting to continue the dialogue while providing essential health services to the people and residents of Liberia.

LMDC sees this action by the MOH to be chaotic and immature, taking into account the length of time in training of health workers required to be different from other occupations," the LMDC statement noted.

Meanwhile, the LMDC is equally calling on the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Health, to address some of the counts raised by the health workers, especially those that are considered 'low hanging fruits.

Suggesting a way forward to finding a remedy to the tussle between the government and health workers, the release quotes the health regulatory body, saying: "The LMDC wishes to suggest that: a six-month tax waiver be granted on the salaries of all healthcare workers; prioritize frontline workers for hazard payments (those in administration can be considered later); MOH announce the commencement of payments and benefits to victims and families of COVID 19 health workers that died as soon as possible; GOL temporarily halt the retirement of healthcare workers for now; NAHWUL and MOH to seek independent legal advice about the existence and functions of NAHWUL; set up committee to look into the issue of salary adjustment and; set up other committees to address other issues raised by the healthcare workers."

According to the release, the LMDC said it wishes to express its commitment to the healthcare profession and the wellbeing of healthcare providers and, most importantly, the wellbeing of patients. The LMDC strongly believes in a win-win situation and encourages all parties to continue with the dialogue in amicably resolving this grave matter.

"The LMDC equally rejects the idea of "putting off fire with fire". Two wrongs can never make things right. The LMDC has always stood up for the best quality care for the people of Liberia and will never waiver to continue in such direction by putting the safety and lives of our citizens and residents within Liberia first. In fact, that is the reason why a skeleton staff is always provided for emergency care at the various health centers to save lives and not disrupt the emergency care provided for the patients," it concludes.

Simeon Wiakanty contributed to this story.

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