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Opinions of Sunday, 16 August 2015

Columnist: Asare-Donkoh, Frankie

Dancing around the doctors' strike...While vulnerable citizens die

It seems there is no immediate end to the impasse between the members of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) and the government, which escalated since July 29 when the doctors started a strike.

Following the strike, the tension between the government and its communicators, and the medical doctors has heightened raising the temperature of ordinary citizens some of whom have spoken harshly either against the doctors or the government.

Meanwhile, as the impasse worsens, our health system continues to deteriorate with vulnerable people who have no means of travelling outside for medical attention dying.

Many well-meaning individuals and organisations have appealed to the combatants – government and the GMA – to find a resolution to the impasse, yet we cannot see any of them softening its stand.

The GMA says its action is to get the government (the employer) to agree with its members a condition of service, insisting doctors in the country have been working without a condition of service as required by labour laws.

There have been mixed reactions from government with some officials insisting doctors have a condition of service, while others are only hammering on the demands the doctors are making in the proposed condition of service, though government continue meet the doctors on their condition service.

Beside these are the very unnecessary inflammatory statements from some sections of the public, and some government officials, some of which sometimes erode any efforts by a few government officials who try to lower the temperature.

While the doctors continue to be on strike, some government officials have suggested some actions which they expect the government to take. Some of them are worth considering but others are very outrageous.

The government’s human security adviser, retired Brigadier General Joseph Nunoo-Mensah, for instance has ‘advised’ the striking doctors who have threatened to resign en masse in due course, to join Ghanaian footballer Asamoah Gyan in China to play football to make money because “the doctors have chosen above their profession.”

The Greater Accra regional chairman of the governing National Democratic Congress, Ade Coker, has also suggested that the government brings in doctors from Cuba to replace the striking doctors. He however failed to explain how early such Cuban doctors can be brought in, and whether they would work for free, pay for their own accommodation and welfare, or the state would have to pay them.

Ade Coker might have forgotten that Cubans speak Spanish and not many of them speak English, and that some years ago during the Rawlings regime when some Cuban doctors were brought into our health system, many of them had to work with interpreters.


But one of the outrageous suggestions I have heard is the one from the chairman of the parliamentary committee on finance, Mr James Avedzi, who says the impasse can be resolved if Ghanaians paid more taxes, stating that: “The alternative is that we accept the position of the doctors and we give more money to the government to meet what the doctors are asking you, that is paying more taxes.”

According to him, “We are getting GH¢32 billion in revenue this year and GH¢25.3 billion is coming from taxes that are paid by you and I… if we don’t pay that tax, government has no money”, adding that “Where will the President get the money from?” to meet the doctors’ demand. He doesn’t seem to understand what is at stake, as the doctors demand is not all about money.

There is every indication that the doctors’ issue has been politicised to the extent that the government and opposition parties see things differently. Whereas almost all the major opposition parties are blaming government for delaying in resolving the impasse and describing government’s action as inefficient, government see the action as being instigated by the opposition parties, and also blames the doctors on engaging in an illegal strike hence it won’t give in to them.

Media reports have shown how the 37 Military and the Police hospitals have been overstretched over the last weeks with some patients even lying on the floor and benches at the military hospital, whereas Korle Bu, the nation’s biggest hospital, is struggling to cope with the situation.

Reports have also been made on recorded deaths in Korle Bu, Komfo Anokye in Kumasi, and other hospitals where such deaths could have been avoided if doctors were at work.

The GMA is yet to come out to tell Ghanaians whether its members would listen to the pleas of ordinary Ghanaians many of whom usually suffer from such fights between doctors and government, and resume work.

What some of us consider to be a headache of the doctors is whether their demands will be properly taken care of if they resumed work, in addition to the view that they would have given in to government communicators who have challenged them to go ahead with their threat of resigning en masse.

What is needed at this time are cool heads from all directions to resolve the impasse. The National House of Chiefs, the Council of State, the Moslem Council and of course the Christian Council and Peace Council which the doctors say they copied their petition in November last year but did nothing, must all rise up and sit down with the doctors and the government.

The President, Vice President, ministers of state and other high level state officials could be flown out of Ghana for medical treatment when they are sick, likewise the leadership of some of the institutions mentioned above, but the fact remains that even all the family members of such privileged people can’t be flown out, and such family members are likely to suffer the same fate as us the ordinary citizens should we allow the doctors to continue the strike or resign en mass.

The President should normally have been the last resort in cases like this one, but regrettably, he jumped into the fray too quickly with such anger that his interventions have rather inflamed passions, especially when he continues to describe the doctors’ strike as “illegal and not making sense” and yet he has the power to sack them but has not.

How can the President allow an illegal act to continue when citizens are dying? If the President can take a fatherly step by flying millions of dollars to the country’s footballers who were about to go on strike at the world cup, why can’t the President take similar fatherly step to saves those dying?

Sometimes, not only money can stop strike actions by workers. Under President Rawlings, when Mr Samuel Nuamah-Donkor was the Heath Minister, nurses started a strike action but after he personally met them the nurses immediately returned to work due to the way he met and spoke with them.

Mr President, you still remain the father of the nation. Despite your earlier statements to the doctors, you can still meet them in person, and I’m very convinced they will listen to you. At the same time I am appealing to the GMA and its members to disregard those insulting them and rather listen to the well-meaning Ghanaians all over the country who have shown solidarity with them and resume work.

Please, let’s stop dancing around the problem and save the perishing souls in our hospitals.