CAIRO: Doctors staging a seven-day sit-in at the Doctors’ Syndicate suspended their protest for one day yesterday, during the syndicate’s annual awards ceremony in celebration of Doctors’ Day.
According to organizers Doctors Without Rights – a lobby group which presses for better pay and conditions for doctors – pressure from security bodies persuaded them against holding the sit-in Tuesday.
“The decision to suspend the sit-in was made after the group [Doctors Without Rights] learned that it could be subjected to harassment by security bodies because ministry [of health] officials will be attending the ceremony, a message sent to members of Doctors Without Rights read. “The group chose to suspend the sit-in in order not to subject doctors to security harassment, it continued.
The decision to temporarily suspend the sit-in was made late last night after talks with state security personnel, who have been a constant presence there.
“There were no direct threats, but we were advised to suspend the sit-in today and continue it on Wednesday, Dr Mona Mina of Doctors Without Rights told Daily News Egypt.
The protest began on Saturday after head of the Doctors’ Syndicate Dr Hamdy El-Sayyed decided to “postpone the two-hour symbolic strike voted for almost unanimously by over 3,000 Syndicate members in February.
Doctors are asking for a LE 1,000 minimum wage. At the moment junior doctors start out on a salary of LE 200 per month while those with over 15 years experience are paid LE 600.
El-Sayyed’s decision came after Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said that strikes by doctors are illegal. El-Sayyed told reporters during a press conference given last Saturday that the illegality of strike action rendered the decision to strike invalid, and that he did not therefore need to convene and consult syndicate members during another general assembly.
This opinion is contested by Doctors Without Rights, who say that it is only through strike action that their demands will be met, all other methods having failed.
During the Doctors’ Day award ceremony today, attended by Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabaly, El-Sayyed called on the government to allocate more funds to doctors’ salaries, saying “no society can develop without decent systems of health and education.
He said that doctors are unable to develop professionally without adequate monetary compensation, and criticized bureaucratic obstacles and corruption which result in doctors not receiving funds for higher education allocated to them in a 2005 decree issued by the prime minister, saying “there are a million obstacles in the way of the application of the prime minister’s decision.
El-Sayyed also said that it was “disgraceful that a doctor is paid LE 200 when “the Workers’ Union suggests that in current conditions the minimum wage should stand at LE 1,200.
Minister of Health El-Gabaly thanked civil society for “supporting the health service in Egypt.
Charitable groups in Egypt provide health care to marginalized groups who cannot afford private health care but severely overstretched free national health care cannot always accommodate.
He also called on the media to “focus on the positive aspects of the health sector in Egypt.
“We don’t reject media criticism but ask the media to concentrate on the positive aspects with the same attention it gives to negative events, El-Gabaly said.
Turning to doctors’ demand for a basic salary, El-Gabaly said “the Health Ministry examines the health system as a whole; nurses, doctors, chemists and technicians. Our 2006 program concentrated on professions which cannot supplement their income through private work.
Poor wages paid to doctors employed by the Ministry of Health force many of them to seek second jobs in private clinics which, they suggest, had contributed to the deterioration of the service offered in government hospitals.
El-Gabaly said that nurses’ salaries will be increased this year, the extra LE 1.20 they currently take for shifts will increase to LE 15.
The Minister of Health also said that LE 800 billion will be allocated to the health sector in 2008 and that in 2009 LE 500 million will be dedicated to improving the salary of doctors working in rural areas, who will be paid LE 800 a month.
Doctors working in countryside health units are often paid significantly less than their urban counterparts.
“In coming months we will continue to increase wages in return for commitment to their work by doctors, El-Gabaly said.