Yemeni physicians continue to strike until their demands are fulfilledWhat are we waiting for? [Archives:2005/862/Reportage]

July 25 2005

By Dr. Sawsan Al Refai
Al Kuwait University Hospital
For Yemen Times

Being a Yemeni physician, I find my self obliged to write about the situation of Yemeni physicians and their recent courageous strike.

I, and all my colleagues of Profession, struggled a lot during our college days, due to all the general mismanagement and corruption taking place in the educational system as a whole. But an addition burden was forced on our shoulders after our graduation from the faculty of Medicine. New medical doctors go through a horrifying experience processing their certificates, and if finally received, these certificates do not really achieve much for them. Many new doctors work for at least 2-3 years as unpaid volunteers awaiting their public job. Criteria of public employment is ambiguous and biased. But this is not the issue at stake here. For those who exerts tremendous efforts and spend a whole lot of money to finally get a job in the public health sphere, are in a continuous state of shock because of the unfair wage system adopted by the government for the medical staff.

Al-Kuwait Hospital remains the refuge for the poor and needy patients who can not afford the minimum health services cost, and it is a place where hundreds of students practice their clinical skills as part of their academic requirement. This hospital is one of many that are active in the recent strike announced by the Yemeni Physicians and Pharmacists Syndicate (YPPS).

The strike was resumed on the 4th of this month, when negotiations failed with the government to increase wages for Yemeni physicians. The strike was suspended on the 4th of March upon promises from the government to settle with the YPPS and introduce changes to the Pension Law to consider physicians as “special staff” entitled for increased pension. A written agreement was signed between Dr. Mohammed Al-Thawr, the previous head of YPPS, and Ministry of Health, stating that measures will be taken to fulfill the demands of the YPPS.

On the recent strike, Dr. Moa'amar Al Ghazali, head of YPPS in Kuwait Hospital said,” We suspended our previous strike because we thought the government was serious in considering our problem. Unfortunately, all we had were verbal promises but nothing was actually achieved. The Pension law has already been approved by the parliament and there was no mention of “special staff” measures for physicians”. On the status of the current strike, he continued: “more than 85% of medical physicians are on strike all around the Republic. Although, we are all under pressure, but we believe in our cause and will continue until the government responds to our demands”.

Dr. Al Ghazali explained that the strike will not endanger the lives of patients as only non-emergency health services are seized. He also added that YPPS is not responsible for the medical misconducts practiced in hospitals on strike especially by administrators who insist on resuming work in out-patient departments using unskilled doctors, medical students, and sometimes even nursing staff and technicians to handle patients.

Dr. Mohammed Al Saeedi, is a specialist in plastic surgery at Kuwait Hospital. He said that his monthly salary is YR 23,000, which is only YR700 more than the salary of a general practitioner. He explained that his foreign colleagues of the same academic degree and experience, maybe less, receive a salary ranging $ 2000- $ 4000 monthly, in addition to other benefits such as accommodation, utilities, medical insurance, and travel tickets. He clarified that the foreign staff in the hospital form only 2-5% of the total staff and are present in departments where equally experienced Yemeni specialists are accumulated.

Dr. Mohammed Zaid, specialist in internal medicine, added on the consequences of the strike by saying: ” all of us are put under pressure. Administrations of hospitals continue to give us verbal threats in order to break the strike. Meetings halls are closed so that we can not meet with our YPPS representatives. Some YPPS committee members were prevented from entering hospitals by security forces”.

Dr. Amal Al Shawafi, a radiologist in same hospital, poses a question ” What are we waiting for?” She says that the current strike is not only for the doctors who have been working for years without any fair reward, but also for the coming generations who deserve a better standard of living in return for their hard and sincere work. She clarified that the role of the Ministry of Health is passive but also sometimes rival. She said: ” the Ministry is wasting time threatening physicians and the Syndicate by setting anti-strike measures, instead of addressing the issues and problems through serious negotiations with our legal Syndicate whom we all have elected and always will support”. She adds: ” this strike is legal and constitutional. We aim to draw the attention of parliament, ministry of human rights, and the President himself to our problems and demands”.

Dr. Hameed Al Doais, general practitioner, believes that the government is spending more money as a consequence of the strike, than the total sum of pension raise that YPPS is demanding. He exclaims how these demands seem unrealistic to the government when there are Millions of Dollars spent on cars and luxurious items provided for governmental officials.

It is worth mentioning that reform of the medical staff status is considered one important step if not the priority in the process of health reform. The position of the Ministry of Health is questionable especially that the health situation in Yemen is grave and continuing to deteriorate. The problem of Yemeni physicians is part of the massive health challenges in Yemen. Reports show that spending on health decreasing not only as percentage of the budget but also per capita. Only 30% of rural areas have access to primary health care and out-of-pocket contribution to health cost is more than 91%.

Yemeni Physicians and Pharmacists Syndicate members believe that citizens carry part of the responsibility too. The public should be aware that they are also affected by the bad situation of physicians and therefore should support the Syndicate by demanding reform and calling for anti-corruption measures in the government in general and Ministry of Health in particular.