Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

All at once

Doctors on strike intend to submit resignations en masse to pressure the government into meeting their demands, reports Reem Leila

With a doctors strike entering its third week, doctors decided on Saturday, during a meeting held at their syndicate headquarters, to present collective resignations to protest at the government for not responding to their demands. During the meeting, resignation forms were distributed among doctors.

Mona Mina, a member of the movement Doctors Without Rights, said mass resignations will be submitted to the health minister as soon as the number reaches from 15,000 to 20,000. Overall, the number of doctors working in the Health Ministry is 60,000 in Egypt, whereas 120,000 work abroad. "Nearly 80 per cent of doctors are participating in the strike, and the strike has succeeded by almost 80 per cent," said Mina.

Mina, who is also a member of the board of the Doctors Syndicate, said the resignations were aimed at pressuring the government into seriously taking doctors' complaints into consideration. "Instead, they neglect us and give us hollow promises," she said. Mina said doctors agreed to state in their resignations the reason for resigning. "According to law, health officials must investigate the reasons behind the resignations before accepting or refusing them. Accordingly, they will be forced to seriously consider our demands," she added.

Although Mina believes the strike succeeded, Ibrahim Mustafa, assistant to the health minister, stated that the number of hospitals operating at full capacity is 373, a percentage of 71.7, whereas the number of hospitals which are on strike is 30 hospitals, a percentage of 5.8 per cent. The number of hospitals on a partial strike is 117, a percentage of 22.5 per cent, Mustafa stated, adding that no one can threaten the government. "If doctors resigned collectively, the health minister will replace them with doctors who are on pension," said Mustafa.

According to Mustafa, the ministry has taken several punitive measures against striking doctors whose action has proved to affect patients. "More than 15 doctors are under administrative interrogation, and 10 others were officially suspended from work. The ministry can take further legal procedures against striking doctors if they insist on their obstinacy," said Mustafa.

Ahmed Ibrahim, a doctor who has been working at Imbaba National Heart Institute (NHI) for 15 years, believes that the mass resignations would force the government into taking their demands into consideration. "We are suffering as other people from poor living conditions. Prices are skyrocketing. The government is not paying us reasonable salaries to help us maintain a decent life. We are living on instalments. I buy my clothes and that of my family by instalments," complained Ibrahim.

Last week, the doctors on strike decided to treat patients for free at public hospitals. All protesters were urged to show up at hospitals early morning to prevent hospital administrations from selling tickets to patients as part of an escalating strike. Doctors told patients they will conduct medical examinations for free. "Free treatment strike" was the motto which doctors adopted. Hospital administrations were forced to report the incident to the Health Ministry. Doctors were referred to an internal investigation.

Mahmoud Al-Mirghani, vice head of NHI, said the strike was seriously affecting patients' health. "The Health Ministry promised to send us a back-up of cardiologists, but it did not keep its promise. We are still waiting for the support as the situation is deteriorating on a daily basis," said Al-Mirghani.

Lawyer Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, who is part of the legal committee created by Doctors Without Rights in support of the strike, described the protest as "legal and allowed by the force of law." Abdel-Aziz said the strike is in accordance with human rights. "It is impossible for a doctor to work while he is demoralised and afraid of being attacked at any time." Abdel-Aziz added that since the beginning of the strike, doctors became a subject of "campaigns of distortion".

According to Abdel-Aziz, health officials are basing their campaigns on Article 124 of the Penal Code which criminalises strikes. "The constitutionality of this article has been disputed in many courts and the article itself is not in accordance with the labour law of 2003 which protects workers' rights in leading a decent life," said Abdel-Aziz.

If doctors submit their resignations, an investigation will be opened to know the reasons why. According to Abdel-Aziz, the reasons must be looked into one by one. The resignations will be either accepted or rejected altogether. "What protects doctors is their unity and conformity," he added.

Doctors have been calling on the government to increase the Health Ministry's budget to 15 per cent of the state's general budget, increase salaries to LE3,000 and safeguard hospitals which have become a recent target for violent attacks.

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