Last Updated: Fri Nov 02, 2012 13:23 pm (KSA) 10:23 am (GMT)

Egypt’s doctors strike and threaten mass resignations

Doctors in Egypt's run-down public health system are the latest workers to go on strike in Cairo. (Reuters)
Doctors in Egypt's run-down public health system are the latest workers to go on strike in Cairo. (Reuters)

Doctors are the latest workers on strike in wave of industrial action under the government of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi on Thursday (November 1).

Medical professionals from the country’s run-down public health system renewed a partial strike demanding better pay and work conditions, after a temporary suspension over Eid, and are threatening mass resignations if their demands are not met.

With doctors holding posters near the Health Ministry saying “We want a decent life” and handing out leaflets, the protest is now in its fourth week and close to becoming one of the longest strikes by medical professionals in Egyptian history.

“The economic and social situation of Egyptian doctors and specifically for the young doctors who treat the majority of the Egyptian people, is extremely bad. A salary for recent graduate doctor is 200 Egyptian pounds ($32.70) a month and his circumstances are very difficult to the extent that he is not even able to pay the fare for a minibus to get to the hospital. And when he arrives at the hospital, thugs are always around to demolish the hospital premises, and the government ignores this,” head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and a fertility doctor, Mohamed Abul Ghar, said.

The doctors are calling for a wage rise and an increase in the state budget for the health sector from 4 to 15 percent.

As Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mursi won grudging respect from detractors by sending the army back to barracks faster than anyone expected and raising Egypt’s international profile in several news making visits abroad.

Yet his political fortunes and those of the Muslim Brotherhood which propelled him to power may well depend on his delivering on more mundane issues such as easing traffic congestion and bread and fuel shortages, and attending to the health and education sectors.

His government has been plagued by industrial action, serving as a reminder of the deep economic problems that fueled the uprising against predecessor President Hosni Mubarak.

Stepping up the pressure, public sector doctors are threatening to resign en masse.

“[The push for a mass resignation by doctors] is a means of putting on the pressure in addition to the partial-strike we are staging. Unfortunately, we cannot stage a total strike because if we were to do so for just one hour, at least 500 people will die in Egypt. So we have been taking different approaches to escalate our strike. The mass resignations being one of them, as well as this human chain you see before you, and there will be many other approaches that will make up for not being able to stage a total strike,” doctor, Hazem el-Shenawy, said.

There are no quick fixes in a nation with a sprawling bureaucracy riddled with corruption.

Egypt is ranked 101 out of 169 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index and two-fifths of the 83 million population live around the poverty line.

But doctors say the health sector needs urgent attention.

“Nobody has given any recognition of our demands. It’s as if doctors aren’t human and the health of our patients means nothing. We are gathering between 15 to 20 thousand resignations en masse because we cannot find any other solution. During our time at the hospital, we have been subjected to insults and abuses, we don’t have equipment and we have the worst types of stethoscopes.

I am on my own at the hospital and it’s natural that patients will attack me with insults, so if this is the case then I'll just resign and stay at home,” pediatrician Dahlia said.

There are an estimated 100,000 doctors working in government hospitals which are notorious for poor hygiene, equipment and insufficient security.

While the Egyptian Health Ministry has said that it is working to meet the doctors’ demands, the striking doctors accuse government officials of launching a campaign to slander them and portray them as an unsatisfied minority that does not represent the majority of Egyptian state doctors.

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