What is important is that there is a strike by junior doctors, the farm hands of daily rounds in hospital wards and the men and women pivotal to the treatment and management of many cases of compromised health status of an individual. That alone is enough to send shock waves through anyone. Whether sick or not, we are all potential clients of a visit to the doctor and when that time comes, every person wants the best attention, care and management of his condition.
For a person there is never a case of simple ailment. If a situation warrants seeing a doctor then the condition is serious. It becomes all the more edgy if a patient is in critical condition. Doctors are always in the forefront of the fight against a person keeping his appointment with the Maker before his time is due. In a few cases, the inevitable happens and a green screen drawn around a bed, as a doctor, heartbroken too as a human being walks away in non shared professional anguish and frustration.
In most cases however, doctors manage to prolong a person’s days on earth and, it is really the ultimate gift of life. Few in the world have those gifted hands and brains. It is not uncommon for a class of one hundred people not to produce a single doctor! Fewer still make through the rigorous training in medical schools. And, a smaller number even, branches out to the specialist fields of human treatment.
To be a doctor is to stare death in the eyes on a daily basis and very few human beings have the nerve for such physical and psychological trauma. Yet, doctors always have a charming face for it is the only way to reassure their patients that an appointment with the grey angel is not imminent. It takes five years after secondary school to train a doctor and many more years to branch out into a field of specialisation.
Thus, it is perhaps the biggest contraction in society that Bank of Tanzania (BoT) messengers are paid higher than doctors. Also, it is ridiculous to pay doctors a monthly salary that is equivalent to just the day’s allowances for an MP. No harm is intended but it is now a deep rooted perception that many legislators largely snore in parliament if they are not outright absent, instead of doing the business the people sent them to do in the august House.
Photos of empty seats and of snoring MPs have since gone viral on the Internet and although the people laugh, not all of them find it hilarious. To go to parliament, even if you don’t have education at all, has now become synonymous with a quick and easy money making scheme. I think we should draw serious lessons from the doctors’ action for re-orienting our country to all caring, all sensitive and all hands down leadership in all areas and fields national life. I take the doctors’ action basically as a revolution.
And, all revolutions tend to grow both in strength and force when two things happen. One, if there is a lethargic response to the crisis and two, if counter revolution measures are fiercer. The Minister for Health and Social Welfare Dr Haji Mponda read in parliament on Friday the government’s statement on the crisis as the Deputy Speaker, Mr Job Ndungai had demanded when the House adjourned on Thursday.
However, he skillfully deferred debating the statement because it would not have been fair for the other party to the crisis, that is the striking doctors who could not also be parliament. He thus referred the matter to the Health and Social Welfare Standing Committee chaired by Hon Margaret Sitta where the doctors and other interested parties could be heard before parliament debated the issue “in as short a time as possible for at stake are people’s lives,” he said.
Yet, in my opinion, it is not something that really requires debate in parliament as it is a matter that clearly falls under the powers of the executive branch of government for decision and action. It is equally useless at this point to invoke legalistic approaches and arguments. It is of little relevance whether the strike by the doctors was illegal or not. The point is, the question has turned into a political issue and once it becomes political, all legalistic arguments freeze. The most important thing is to find the way out for at stake, are people’s lives and their general good health, which doctors through their training and skills deliver.
We should agree that the whole issue was mishandled ab initio and has as a result turned into a decision making faux pas because of the attitudes of some officials at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Too many times, too many officials tend to treat those under their charge as neighbourhood kids and not as colleagues, which complicates matters and has been the major cause of lack of development. The doctors have said so in one of their complaints.
So it is not just a question of poor salaries and poor working environment. There is an attitude problem at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, which could be the real trigger and wind seemingly blowing a nonexistent prairie fire. I think the President has to take a very firm decision about the crisis, starting with palpable changes at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. I don’t see how a solution can be found without changes at the ministry. It should be remembered that the people are the real stakeholders in this case and, even casual sampling of public opinion clearly indicates on which side they largely stand.
All I know is the doctors, whether skilful negotiators or not, have not lost their case in the eyes of the public otherwise we would have heard widespread and vocal condemnation of their strike from the people. Thus, it is more worrisome when it gets to that point for it is hard to win a political argument against the doctors’ action by appealing to the morality or not of their action, a game for which the people already hold the trump card!
As I said, we should use the doctors’ strike for embarking on a new culture of political leadership that puts the people at the centre of all decision making and action. There is no way the doctors will go back to work as a beaten force. There will have to be give and take and, the government will have to demonstrate greater understating and willingness to keep the doctors smiling as they attend to patients, including the very ministers and MPs.