Striking Congo Doctors Return To Work

A week-long strike by doctors in the Democratic Republic of Congo has ended with a promise. It remains to be seen whether this one is any better than the last pledge by the government to address the concerns of Synamed, the union representing the physicians.

The doctors say although they are returning to work, they are skeptical the government will abide by the agreement to increase salaries and address the deterioration of the medical system in the ravaged country. Kambamba Mbwebe, a doctor in the 2,000-bed Kinshasa General Hospital, said,

“I personally don’t rely on that government. This is not the first time they are promising things. University professors had the same bad game, they (government) promised to increase their salaries and it was exactly the same thing. The government failed to live up to its word. This is the same problems with many professional groups although there is a document that has been signed with our unions, I’m still skeptical.”

Kinshasa General Hospital logs over 3,000 consultations daily. Its 2,000 beds are constantly full. Patients are expected to pay for treatment, but fees aren’t nearly high enough to cover costs. The vast majority of the patient population is impoverished, which doesn’t help.

Doctors in public hospitals earn about 120,000 Congolese francs per month, including bonuses. That works out to about $216, a sum insufficient to cover even the Congo’s low cost of living. Many doctors are reported to be on the verge of eviction for inability to pay rent. They are asking for a raise to an average of $580 per month as well as payment of a risk bonus and permanent appointments for doctors with temporary employment.

The government, meanwhile, claims to have fulfilled to the doctors’ demands.

“We did not ignore any of the doctors’ claims. Quite to the contrary, many of the issues were resolved between January and August 2008,” said Makwenge Kaput, the Minister for Health.

He claims that unpaid bonuses had been paid and salaries raised.

Mbwebe responds,

“It’s unacceptable that ministers, government officials and members of parliament earn more than $4,000 a month and buy new cars while we suffer.”

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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