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Health workers’ strike “has cost lives”

The main public hospital in Gabon, in the capital Libreville
(Oswald Douckagha/IRIN)

A three-month national health workers’ strike in Gabon has public hospitals turning away gravely ill people, residents told IRIN.

The main health workers’ union, SYNAPS, warned that it will cut remaining medical services at the end of April if longstanding demands concerning salary and working conditions are not met. Health personnel have been on strike since 12 January (with a brief break in March following the First Lady's death), providing just minimum services – some staff working a few hours a day for limited procedures.

“This strike has cost lives,” said a resident from the capital Libreville who identified himself only as Charles. Citizens told IRIN they are reluctant to speak on the record about public policy for fear of reprisals by the authorities. Charles said his 42-year-old brother, who suffered high blood pressure, died shortly after being turned away from the main public hospital, Centre Hospitalier de Libreville (CHL).

Another man, who requested anonymity, told IRIN he is at a loss as to what to do about his three-year-old daughter who he said has had a severe cough for two weeks.

“I do not have the means to take her to a private hospital. My only recourse is the [public hospital], so I just do not know what to do and this saddens me deeply.”

In private clinics a consultation can cost up to US$40, or about one-tenth of a civil servant’s monthly salary, while in public facilities consultations are free for students and retirees and about $6 for others.

SYNAPS is demanding premiums, pay raises and better work facilities.

“It is not simply about pay demands,” SYNAPS secretary general Serges Mickala told reporters on 27 March following a union meeting. “It is also about the rehabilitation of all hospitals and the proper equipment to deliver medical care, because everything is dilapidated.”

The government has said it is trying to fix things as quickly as possible. “The government is indeed aware of and concerned about the dilapidation of hospitals,” Appolinaire Mouckila, Health Ministry communications adviser, told IRIN.

Residents told IRIN they are frustrated over the government’s and union’s failure to resolve the situation.

“I hope this strike will end soon,” said 31-year-old Myriam, who is pregnant. She said she was recently turned away for a scheduled prenatal consultation at CHL. “I am asking myself whether I am going to have my baby in that hospital. But what else can I do, given that I do not have the means to go to a private clinic?”

Largely from oil revenues Gabon is among the wealthiest countries in sub-Saharan Africa with a per capita income of more than $6,000 as of 2007, according to the World Bank. But despite the relatively high average income living conditions remain poor for a large part of the population of 1.3 million, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The infant mortality rate stayed at 60 per 1,000 births from 1990 to 2007, according to UNICEF.

Gabon ranks 119 of 177 countries on the UN Human Development Index, which measures indicators including income and access to education and health care.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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