Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Doctors begin open-ended strike for better conditions

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Doctors begin open-ended strike for better conditions

Tue, 17/05/2011

Jano Charbel

Doctors across the country launched an open-ended general strike today to press again for a raft of demands that have so far not been satisfied, despite a one-day strike on 10 May.

The doctors’ demands include an increase in the allocation of funds to health care from the national budget from 3.5 percent to 15 percent, the improvement of working conditions and hospital services, the impeachment of Doctors Syndicate President Hamdy al-Sayyed, and the replacement of the interim Health Minister Ashraf Hatem.

An estimated 85 percent of Doctors Syndicate members participated the strike today, according to strike leaders.

The strike committee leading this action is also demanding an overhaul of the existing health care system, which is deemed to be inefficient and corrupt, along with an improved salary scale for doctors. Strike leaders plan to meet with Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and Finance Minister Samir Radwan to discuss their budgetary demands on Tuesday evening.

On 10 May, an estimated 80 percent of members of the Doctors Syndicate, which includes some 230,000 doctors, went on strike nationwide. The most recent strike is said to have spilled over into more hospitals.

"Our strike has reached new areas, in Sinai, Hurghada, Qena and Upper Egypt, along with other locations across the country" said Dr. Mona Mina, a member of the strike committee and a leading figure in the grouping known as Doctors Without Rights.

Dr. Mina called the strike a success despite rumors that it would be canceled.

The syndicate's website warned that the president would take disciplinary action against those doctors who neglect patients' interests or cause them harm.

In a televised address this week, al-Sayyed argued that the doctors' strike would negatively affect the Egyptian revolution and its gains.

All emergency rooms, intensive care wards, nurseries, chemotherapy treatment facilities, and dialysis machines in every hospital will remain functioning around the clock throughout the strike, strike leaders said.

The committee emphasized that no patient was harmed as a result of the strikes on 10 May or 17 May. They aim to protect the rights and health of patients throughout the ongoing strike.

"If any patient has complaints regarding negligence or inability to access essential health services in any hospital, we urge them to file written complaints so that we can address the problem,” Dr. Mina said.

The strike committee has threatened to escalate their protest if their demands are not met. A million-person march and protest is being planned, and some doctors are even threatening to undertake collective resignations.

"Health care is not a luxury; it is a basic human right,” said Dr. Mohamed Shafiq, another member of the strike committee. “We are undertaking this strike action specifically for the sake of poor and underprivileged patients."

"We want the underprivileged patients to have the same access to health care as the wealthy," Dr. Shafiq said.

Dr. Mohamed Zeid, a strike leader from Monufiya Governorate, suggested that the doctors’ strike is under pressure from a number of sides, including the Health Ministry and officials in the Doctors Syndicate.

“We must cleanse our ranks in the syndicate and the ministry in order to improve health services and working conditions,” Dr. Zeid said. “The dignity of Egypt's doctors and patients has been trampled underfoot for far too long."

Estimates suggest that 100 percent of doctors in the Suez Canal area went on strike today. Around 85 percent in the Monufiya Governorate and other Nile Delta areas participated, while around 75 of Cairo's doctors took part.

"The strike is not an end in itself. It is a means towards realizing improved conditions for both patients and doctors,” Dr. Mina said. "The issue is one of national priorities. Is health care going to be a priority in light of the revolution or is it going to remain neglected?"

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