(25 Jul 2016) Across Haiti, a punishing strike by doctors and residents is to about to enter its fourth month, crippling an overwhelmed public health system that struggles to cope even during the best of times.
The move by doctors protesting against shortages of basic medical supplies along with dismal pay and conditions is the worst in Haiti’s history and so far it shows no signs of ending.
At Haiti’s biggest public hospital that belongs to the State University of Haiti, halls buzz with flies and rats scamper in wards.
The facility, which for long has been the country’s chief teaching hospital, is now the epicentre of its most punishing health sector strike in memory.
In March, doctors and interns walked off the job to protest a chronic lack of even the most basic medical supplies and working conditions so unsafe that relatives of patients routinely threatened them, even storming into operating rooms with handguns.
Nurses and support staff soon joined the walkout. Then waves of strikes spread to 12 other government-run hospitals across Haiti, crippling a severely under-resourced health system that struggles to cope.
Dr. Vanessa Mehu, a third-year anesthesiology resident, said the strikers would not quit until all their demands were met.
Asked if she was breaking her oath along with the other striking doctors by failing to work and treat people, Mehu said “people were always dying but this time we decided not to let them die anymore this way”.
While salaries are a major sticking point, she stressed that doctors need systemic changes to a public health system that’s long been unable to give adequate care to many.
Haiti’s longest health walkout comes as a political impasse between feuding factions shows no sign of ending either, leaving the poorest citizens suffering most amid Haiti’s latest leadership drift.
Caretaker President Jocelerme Privert, whose term ended last month but remains in office as divided lawmakers delay a vote on his fate, has threatened to strip residents of their licences despite a shortfall of skilled medical practitioners. The threat has inflamed tensions.
Recently, specialist physicians tried to report to work at the State University hospital but they were driven away by strikers.
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