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Friday, May 20, 2022

What next after public health workers’ strike?

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The government and public health workers have met recently to thrash out the modalities on the inclusion of public health workers in the newly approved allowances for doctors and PhD holders.

The meeting came following the announcement of a sit-down by the Association of Public and Environmental Health Officers (APEHOG), a registered association of public health professionals in the country. Following its announcement, more than 200 public health workers – aggrieved over their delayed inclusion in the newly approved salary scheme for doctors and PhD holders – decided to rest their tools, and vowed they will not resume work until their demands are met. The demand followed the expiration of an earlier deadline by the public workers.  

Indeed, sit-downs by health care workers have surged exponentially in recent times, mainly due to poor conditions of service. In September 2021, The Gambia Nurses and Midwives Association embarked on a three- day sit-down amid the non-payment of their allowances.

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It is a truism therefore that sit-downs by our health care professionals have become customary in The Gambia, and unless we act now by addressing the many issues leading to them, rendering them a thing of the past will remain but a fleeting dream.

In announcing its strike, the APEHOG listed many issues including “unjust treatments, unjustified redeployment and demotion of senior public health officers,” and the “undermining of expert opinions” as they relate to health. The most recent was the exclusion of its members in the approved allowance scheme for the Ministry of Health.

Tellingly, public health workers have received a lot of backlashes in recent times not least because of these frequent strikes but by the alarming number of deaths and apathy at health facilities.

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However, granted, how a country decides to pay its public health care workers does matter a lot. It is generally accepted that the method doctors and nurses are paid can provide solid incentives for edifying health worker productivity and quality of care. These are issues that are pertinent particularly in a developing country like The Gambia.

If the government is serious about improving the current state of health and health care facilities and operators in the country, it must not only work as a matter of urgency to equip these facilities with modern resources, but incentivise the many hardworking men and women working to ensure a healthy Gambia.

Indeed, countries that incentivise and renumerate their healthcare workers, and implement comprehensive occupational health and safety programmes, have experienced drops in work-related damages and improvements in the work setting, productivity and an ability to retain health workers.

Let the government act by fulfilling its obligation to health and healthcare workers, and perhaps dismantle the general perception that our hospitals are “a death-trap” for citizens.  

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