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Dismissal Not Solution, Mr. Minister

The authority of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare announced the dismissal of twenty-two health workers-just forty-eight hours following a threat issued by Minister Walter T. Gwenigale. Minister Gwenigale, in a statement released Tuesday evening, attributed the dismissal of the twenty-two health workers to acts of incitement among their colleagues. The statement quoted the Minister of Health and Social Welfare as further communicating with the Liberia Nurses Association and Medical and Dental Association to revoke their licenses.

The decision by the Health Ministry comes amid the instance of the leaders and members of the National Health Workers Association of Liberia to continue their strike action across the country unless their demands were met. Primary among the issues of contention are increment in salaries and benefits to reflect present-day realities, and employment of health workers not on the payroll of the government- conditions the Health Ministry may not have met since the signing of the July 22, 2013 Communiqué by  Minister Gwenigale and President of the Association.

“We told them that we are processing the employment, and that is something I’m committed to; I agreed to sign the paper on Wednesday. Now we begin looking for the solution,” acknowledged the Health Minister.

Up to this point, it is yet unknown whether the action points evolving out of the negotiations and enshrined in the communiqué to have been addressed by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and other related sectors of government since twelve months ago were ever actualized.  With such acknowledgement and commitment, many had harbored the belief that the Ministry of Health had already found a common ground with the health workers.

Probably, the ongoing strike action by health workers may be the result of the inability of the authorities of the Ministry to uphold the terms of the communiqué both parties signed on Monday, July 22, 2013 in Monrovia that propelled the return of the health workers to the hospitals, clinics and other health facilities across the country.

While the government may have been exerting efforts to resolve the issues of salary increment and benefits, among others, for health workers for the past one year, it was only expedient, ahead of any crisis, to continuously and constructively engage the health workers, through their national leadership, to work things out in the interest of hundreds of patients at the various public health facilities across the nation.

But to dismiss twenty-two health workers and revoke their licenses forty-eight hours following a threat of dismissal, is just attempting to exacerbate/inflame the situation, even if there were replacements. It is no secret that such situation will only discourage and prevent other physician Assistants, nurses, midwives and other health workers from serving humanity at the various health facilities, especially in Rural Liberia. It may further discourage students from even pursuing studies in the medical field, especially in the various nursing and midwifery schools despite encouragement by the government for most medical practitioners.

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At the moment, most graduates of Colleges of Nursing and Health Sciences at the Cuttington University, United Methodist University, Stella Maris University, Smithe Institute, as well as the Tubman National Institute of Medical Arts or TNIMA, as well as Phebe Nursing School, among others are still unable to find jobs at medical facilities in the country.

While the current intervention of members of the Legislature is welcomed, the Ministers of Finance and Health and Social Welfare must also be made to ensure immediate settlement of the ongoing crisis engulfing the health sector. Minister Walter T. Gwenigale and others must be made to understand that dismissing nurses and midwives and other health workers, as well as revoking their licenses is far from addressing the ongoing strike action.

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