Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

Doctors’ strike continues

Egypt’s doctors have said they intend to strike until their demands are met, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

Two human chains of protesting doctors were formed earlier this week, the first in front of the cabinet’s headquarters and the other in front of the Doctors Syndicate. What they had in common was that the members of each chain were now protesting against the management of the whole healthcare system.
The doctors had previously resumed a partial strike that had entered its fifth week after a brief break over the Eid. Wearing white coats, hundreds of doctors formed a human chain going from the Doctors Syndicate to the Health Ministry headquarters on 1 November.
The doctors were protesting against what they said were deteriorating healthcare conditions in Egypt. Banners read “we want a decent life” and “a fair salary for doctors, nurses, technicians and other employees.” The doctors also distributed leaflets explaining their demands.
The current doctors’ protest is now one of the longest strikes ever carried out by medical professionals in Egypt’s history.
Since 1 October when the strike began, the doctors have been asking for an increase in their salaries and an increase in the country’s health budget from five to 15 per cent of the state budget.
Mona Mina, a member of the board of the Doctors Syndicate, said that the doctors had been protesting for weeks but that no government official had responded to their demands.
“But we insist on our demands. The strike will continue no matter how long it takes for the government to respond to us,” Mina said.
“The human chain has attracted people’s attention as well as that of some officials. High-ranking health officials have been contacting us in order to begin negotiations. However, we are not going to negotiate. We have reasonable demands that should be met,” she added.
The doctors had also filed a lawsuit before the Administrative Court asking for their demands to be met. On 31 October, the court ruled that the doctors were entitled to salary raises and ordered Health Minister Mohamed Mustafa to disburse them.
“The rest of the demands were rejected by the court, which said it was not competent to act. It asked for them to be referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court, which we will do in the coming few days,” Mina said.
Although the Health Ministry has announced it is working to meet the doctors’ demands, the striking doctors have accused health officials of launching a campaign to slander them, portraying them as a dissatisfied minority that does not represent the majority of the country’s doctors.
According to Abdel-Hamid Abaza, assistant to the health minister, every effort was being made to meet the demands of the striking doctors, but there were procedures that had to be followed.
“The striking doctors refuse to understand that there is no extra money to finance their demands. They will have to wait until the coming fiscal year that begins in July 2013,” Abaza said.
“The ministry does not have a magic wand. The minister cannot simply change things just like that.”  
The striking doctors gathered 20,000 resignations immediately before the Eid, and they have said that they intend to resign en masse if the government does not respond to them.
However, according to Hazem Al-Shennawi, a striking doctor, “we should not push for mass resignations. This means putting extra pressure on patients, in addition to the partial strike we are staging.”
The doctors cannot stage a complete strike. “If doctors did this for even one hour, at least 500 people would die in Egypt. So we have been taking different approaches in order to escalate the strike,” Al-Shennawi said.
According to figures released by the doctors’ Supreme Strike Commission (SSC), the percentage of striking doctors has reached 80 per cent in Greater Cairo, 85 per cent in Alexandria, almost 75 per cent in Damietta, and 95 per cent in Sohag.
Mohamed Abdallah, a member of the SSC, said that “we are waiting for other governorates to come out with accurate figures.”
However, figures released by the Health Ministry tell a different story. According to the ministry, the percentage of doctors striking in Egypt’s hospitals has decreased from 73.3 per cent at the beginning of the strike to 53.7 per cent in its fifth week.
The percentage of strikes at outpatient clinics at public hospitals decreased from 34 per cent to only 10.8 per cent, the ministry figures indicated. “It is not a life-threatening issue. The doctors can wait for their demands to be met. Good things come to those who wait,” Abaza said.

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