The nation started to breathe freely again on August 21, 2015, when the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) called off a strike that seemed to have no end in sight. Apart from a little bit of credibility on both sides, neither GMA nor Government lost anything in the three-week doctors’ walkout. Ironically, the average Ghanaian who depends on the public health care system was the one who suffered the grim consequences of the strike.
Three weeks is too long a time for doctors to be on strike, but both GMA and Government contributed equally to the impasse. As soon as the GMA announced the strike, President Mahama declared, among other things, that the state had no more money to spend on doctors, implying right from the get-go that the doctors’ demands would never be satisfied. The GMA, on the other hand, threatened to lead its members to resign en masse if their demands were not met by a certain deadline, which sounded rather like blackmail to me.
How could Government be so insensitive as to allow the strike to be in effect for that long, with inescapable distress to the very people that it is supposed to serve? Mind you, the overwhelming majority of the Ghanaian population relies on the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and other agencies under the Ministry of Health.
It is also surprising to learn that the Hippocratic oath is not as binding on doctors as one might think! How could doctors lay down their stethoscopes for three long weeks, for whatever GOOD reason? Did the GMA forget that at least one life would be needlessly lost as a result of the strike?
Well, the wealthy and powerful (including politicians and top government officials) hardly ever make use of the public health care system, because they regularly fulfill their health care needs through medical vacations. So it is not surprising that Government didn’t treat the strike with the urgency that it deserved, even if the GMA was in the wrong.
On the other hand, Ghanaian doctors know too well that their service to the nation is almost indispensable, so they would have nothing to lose from the strike.
The only losers, after three long weeks of sabre rattling and insults from both parties (GMA and Government), were the ordinary folk who depend on the Ghana public health care system – the ones who cannot afford private health care or medical vacation.
Given that the GMA threatens industrial action almost every year, it is evident that doctors have a bone to pick with Government, don’t they?
Several government spokespersons have condemned the striking doctors for being “greedy” (such a strong word) because other professionals in Ghana can hardly match the kind of salaries and perks that they enjoy. Many people share the same view. For example, Wilson Tay (Ghana Web, “Greed and Guts of Our Medical Doctors”) provides an extensive list of allowances and perks already being enjoyed by physicians and strongly asserts that Ghanaian doctors should be content with their remuneration package. I don’t know whether Tay’s list is the same as the GMA’s “conditions of service” or not.
It makes me wonder: is Government giving our doctors a fair deal, or is the GMA making unreasonable demands?
Both GMA and Government have come out of this conflict relatively unscathed. But let’s not forget that the (Wo)man on the street, who had absolutely nothing to do with the strike, was that the one who had to pay the price. That is not fair.
I edited this post with Grammarly, my favourite proofreading software.
Written by: Theo Acquah
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