As the country battles the novel coronavirus (Covid 19), various health workers’ groups have expressed concern over lack of protective equipment and welfare, with nurses and clinicians downing tools.
The groups include Physicians Assistants Association of Malawi (Paum), Medical Doctors Union of Malawi (MDUM), Malawi Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists (MAMLS) and National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi (Nonm).
Particularly, they are concerned with lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and welfare, with Paum demanding K60 000 while Nonm and MDUM are demanding 70 percent of their basic salary as risk allowance per month.
In a letter to Secretary for Health, dated April 10 2020, Paum president Solomon Chomba and secretary Gomezgani Nkhonjera have said their members will withdraw labour from tomorrow due to unsatisfactory response from government.
According to the letter, Paum wants government to be clear on recruitment, which they say they have cried for so long; how and where infected health workers will be quarantined, and how they would be compensated.
Reads the letter, in part: “Having made a critical analysis of your unsatisfying response to our petition, Paum feels that its members are still at risk of acquiring this Covid-19 with no clear motivation assurance in terms of risk allowance, increment and other issues as stated above.
“In defence of our members’ constitutional right to a safe working environment, patients’ safety and their personal safety, Paum, therefore, formally informs your office and all line managers of various health facilities that from Monday [tomorrow, April 13 2020], all clinical officers, clinical associates, medical assistants and dental therapists shall exercise their rights by withdrawing themselves from unconducive working environment amid this Covid-19 outbreak, up until all the petitioned issues have been n
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On their part, nurses, through Nonm executive director Benson Edwinson Phiri, wrote district commissioners [across the country] on April 7, stating that the majority of health facilities do not have necessary equipment to protect nurses and midwives.
In the letter, Phiri threatened that Nonm members would stay away from work starting on Saturday, and they have, indeed downed their tools, except those in areas where PPE have been distributed.
On Saturday, Nonm president Shouts Simeza said some of their members have gone on strike, adding that it is unfortunate that the situation has reached to a point where their members have to stage a strike over working environment.
“I can confirm that some of our members have gone on strike, especially in districts where PPEs have not been distributed, it is sad that we have gone this far. We are supposed to help people, but we need protection as well,” said Simeza.
He added: “We have also submitted a request that we need our risk allowance to be 70 percent of our basic salary, just like doctors, but we haven’t received any response from the Ministry of Health.”
He confirmed that PPE were being distributed to health facilities, and he was hopeful that the exercise would be complete by Tuesday, but he maintained that nurses in facilities where the PPEs are not available, will continue with the strike.
Similarly, the MDUM letter to Minister of Health Jappie Mhango, dated April 6 2020, highlighted the lack of PPEs like full body gear and N95 facemasks, huge work load due to high vacancy rates and inadequate motivational tools.
Besides demanding a risk allowance calculated at 70 percent of their basic salary, the doctors also asked government to recruit additional 168 medical doctors, saying they are forced to work for 60 hours per week, instead of the recommended 42.5 hours due to huge workload.
Meanwhile, Minister of Health, Mhango, has said government has provided the necessary equipment for protection of health workers in many health facilities.
He was speaking on Saturday while providing an update on Covid-19 at Mzuzu Central Hospital.
He said: “On risk allowance, the President himself [Peter Mutharika] made it very clear that allowances should be adjusted upwards to motivate them and I should believe that this formed part of the discussion with Ministry officials. I am sure that not long from now, the two sides will reach an agreement on the suggested allowances.”
Persistent gaps in human resource capacity exist across all cadres, districts and health care levels within Malawi’s public sector.
The MoH has an estimated 23 188 personnel (out of 42 309 positions that exist in the MoH staff establishment) working in the public health sector, representing a 45 percent vacancy rate.
According to Paum, there is an increased employment gap of over 1 890 against an establishment of 2 935 for clinical officers and 471 against an establishment of 1477 for medical assistants in Malawi.
Already, Malawi has registered 11 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with two deaths.