Doctors, nurses end strike

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  • as govt approves M80 million COVID-19 risk allowances

Limpho Sello

DOCTORS, nurses and other health professionals have returned to work after the government gave in to their demands for risk allowances and protective clothing to shield them from the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) in their line of duty.

The doctors and nurses went on strike last week after the government ignored their 3 April 2020 deadline to pay them risk allowances and provide protective gear to protect them from the virus.

Although Lesotho is yet to record any cases, the virus has killed 27 people in neighbouring South Africa while infections were at 2415 as of yesterday. It had also infected a staggering 2 million people and killed over 127 000 globally by yesterday.

It was against this background that the doctors and the nurses embarked on the strike action to press the government to urgently address their demands.

They were joined by anaesthetists, laboratory scientists, pharmacists and technicians and nursing assistants in the strike. The health workers had grouped themselves under the banner; Coalition of Health Professionals in Lesotho.

The strike was called off over the weekend after the health workers held two-day meetings with Health Minister Nkaku Kabi, his deputy ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli and other senior ministry officials.

The health workers’ coalition spokesperson, Busa Qhala, said after their meeting with the ministers and other officials on 9 and 10 April 2020, the government had agreed to pay them risk allowances calculated at 30 percent of each health professional’s monthly gross salary.

“All our concerns were addressed and we have signed an agreement addressing each and every concern,” Mr Qhala said.  He added Minister Kabi and his deputy had told them that M80 million had been set aside to pay all the affected health staff risk allowances for six months beginning end of this month.

“The COVID-19 risk allowance will only be given for six months. All health professionals will benefit from the risk allowances including those in the private sector because they are not immune to the virus.”

Besides the risk allowance, the health workers also demanded protective clothing and training programmes to capacitate them to handle suspected COVID-19 cases.

Mr Qhala said the training sessions will begin next week.

Yesterday, Ms Phohleli told the Lesotho Times that although her ministry and the health professionals held successful meetings to address the latter’s grievances.

“In those meetings we also had our directors included our Director General of Health Services Dr ‘Nyane Letsie who were able to engage the health professionals’ representatives holistically. I was in an out of the meetings due to other work commitments,” Ms Phohleli said.

It also remains for the government to implement its promises to provide basic equipment to enable hospitals and clinics to at least test for symptoms of the deadly virus including high temperatures and fever. Last week, most of the clinics were using the traditional method of measuring temperature using axillary (armpit) thermometers which they sterilised with methylated spirits. Mabote, Qoaling and Likotsi filter clinics had one non-contact infrared laser thermometer each.

At Domiciliary Clinic in Maseru’s Stadium Area, the nurses were also using armpit thermometers for the few patients they attended to. The nurses only had face masks and surgical gloves but no protective gowns.

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