A national disgrace

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THERE was an uneasy calm at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital this week after nurses grudgingly trudged back to their work stations after a week of protests.

The nurses went on strike last week to demand an immediate improvement in their salaries and working conditions.

The strike paralysed operations at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Lesotho’s biggest referral hospital.

On the face of it, the government appears to have succeeded in arm-twisting the nurses to resume work and ensure the situation at the hospital gives a semblance of normality.

This uneasy truce will however not last unless the government deals firmly with the fundamental issues at the core of Lesotho’s health crisis.

Without addressing the fundamental issues at the heart of the nurses’ strike, we run the risk of seeing these issues erupting again in the not-too-distant future.

Another paralysing mass job action would be the last thing Lesotho needs at this present time.

We therefore expect the government to deal decisively with the grievances that torched the latest strike action.

Papering over the cracks by resorting to threats will not address the fundamental problems that lie at the heart of the country’s anaemic health delivery system.

The Ministry of Health must deal with the concerns raised by the nurses in a calm and mature manner.

It is the ministry’s credibility that is at stake.

We are however persuaded to believe that most of the grievances raised by the nurses as captured in our lead story last week are generally sound.

The nurses are complaining about poor salaries.

They are complaining about shortages of drugs.

They are complaining that the hospital does not have a proper heating system forcing patients and workers to quietly endure this bitter winter.

They have also raised the issue of a serious shortage of beds and linen with some patients being forced to sleep on the floor.

They have also complained about being over-worked.

Some nurses claim they care for at least 50 patients a day when the average number should be in the region of about 10. We see no “external” hand in these demands.

What we have here are genuine concerns from an overworked and underpaid lot.

It is for these reasons that we feel the government needs to approach the latest crisis with a sober mind.

Any government worth its name must care for the health needs of its own citizens.

Providing decent health care should be top of the government’s priorities.

Last week’s strike came almost 12 months after similar industrial action paralysed operations at the hospital.

The grievances were basically the same — poor pay and poor working conditions.

It is important to highlight that at the height of the strike action last year Health Minister Mphu Ramatlapeng promised to act to address the nurses’ grievances.

But 12 months down the line nothing significant has changed.

The situation in fact appears to have deteriorated triggering last week’s mass job action.

It is still the same bureaucratic structure that is struggling to provide decent health care to its own people.

We are aware of government plans to build a new state-ofthe-art hospital to replace the ageing Queen Elizabeth II Hospital.

That is commendable.

But building a new hospital to replace the antiquated Queen Elizabeth II Hospital is only part of the solution.

The authorities must seriously look into the conditions of service for health workers.

The salaries doctors get pale into insignificance when compared to what their peers in neighbouring countries are earning.

In fact, the pathetic salaries our doctors earn are a national disgrace.

We cannot fathom why our doctors should earn five times less than their peers in Swaziland, for instance.

Lesotho does not have a medical school to train its own medical doctors.

The few whom we send to study medicine in neighbouring countries are reluctant to come back home because of the poor salaries that are on offer.

Even the few whom we recruit from our neighbours do not stay long because of the unattractive salaries that are on offer.

This situation is untenable.

If we are to reverse this haemorrhage in the health sector we expect the government to deal with this “anomaly” by paying competitive salaries to medical doctors and nurses.

Does the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili have the political will to fix the health crisis?

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Lesotho’s widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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