Doctors, nurses strike amid coronavirus pandemic

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  • action leaves the country at severe risk of the deadly virus

Limpho Sello

DOCTORS, nurses and other health staff have downed tools demanding protective gear and risk allowances from the government.

The strike action has plunged the health system into crisis amid fears that the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic will wreck-havoc if it spreads into poor African countries with weak health systems like Lesotho. It is killing thousands of people daily in countries with advanced health systems like Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. The government has called the striking workers for talks. A meeting is expected in Maseru today.

Although Lesotho is yet to record any cases, the virus has killed 13 people in neighbouring South Africa while infections there are at 1700 and increasing daily. It has also killed over 83 000 people globally and had by yesterday infected a staggering 1, 4 million people.

Local doctors, nurses and other health workers had last week threatened to strike after giving the government until 3 April 2020 to pay them risk allowances and also provide protective gear to shield them from the virus.

The ultimatum came just two days after Dr Thabane announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown to curb the virus’s spread.

The doctors and nurses were joined by anaesthetists, laboratory scientists, pharmacists and technicians and nursing assistants in issuing the demands to deputy health minister ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli on 27 March 2020.

The health workers have grouped themselves under the banner; Coalition of Health Professionals in Lesotho.

Secretary of the coalition, ‘Mamonica Mokhesi Makhozonke, recently told the Lesotho Times’ sister paper, the Sunday Express, that “if we are not protected as we deliver health care services, we shall be forced to protect ourselves”.

Ms Makhozonke said as front liners in the provision of healthcare, health professionals were at risk of acquiring and transmitting COVID-19 as they spent long periods with patients.  The professionals want a risk allowance calculated at 30 percent of their gross salaries. They want the allowances and protective gear because they work around the clock with patients and therefore have higher chances of contracting the rampaging Covid-19.

They also want equipment and training in dealing with the virus. They want sick leave regulations to be reviewed to ensure that all health professionals who contract coronavirus while on duty are paid in full until they recover.

The Ministry of Health will today (Thursday) meet the striking health professionals to map the way forward.

Ms Phohleli confirmed the meeting yesterday.

“We have called them for a meeting tomorrow (today) and I am sure in that meeting, we will know if they want to continue with the strike,” Ms Phohleli said.

“I will only be able to communicate the resolutions after the meeting.”

Three Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital filter clinics and the main referral hospital Tšepong were teeming with patients when our news crew visited them yesterday. This has been worsened by the fact that most Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL) health centers only offer emergency services.

Most of the clinics were using the traditional method of measuring temperature using axillary (armpit) thermometers which they sterilised with methylated spirit. Mabote, Qoaling and Likotsi filter clinics had one non-contact infrared laser thermometer each. Their  medical staff were fully dressed in protective gear.

However, at Domiciliary Clinic in Maseru’s Stadium Area, the nurses were still using armpit thermometers for the few patients they attended to. The nurses only had face masks and surgical gloves and no protective gowns. Some patients who were queued outside the clinic complained that they were failing to access their medication for different chronic conditions due to the strike.

Staff who spoke to the Lesotho Times from ‘Mapoteng Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Hospital in Berea, Paray Hospital in Thaba-Tseka and St Mary’s and Seboche hospitals (both in Butha-Buthe), said they were only attending to emergency cases because of the strike.

CHAL director Lebohang Mothae  said most of their staffers were members of the Coalition of Health Professionals in Lesotho and were on strike.

“The said staffers are front liners who have  direct contact with the patients including nurses, nurses’ assistants, laboratory technicians and pharmacists,” Ms Mothae said.

She said some of their facilities like Mapoteng and Paray Mission were crowded because of the large volumes of patients from outside their respective catchment areas. She added  they were worried they would soon run out of their protective gear posing further challenges.

Coalition of Health Professionals deputy public relations officer Mojakisane Ramafikeng told the Lesotho Times yesterday that he had only heard rumours of today’s meeting.

“I hope to receive an invitation by the end of day today (yesterday),” Dr Ramafikeng said.

 

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