Gambian medical doctors have gone on a strike demanding the resignation of the country’s health minister, Saffie Lowe-Ceesay for accusing them of theft and corrupt practices.
The Association of Resident Doctors wants Ceesay, who had long served the country’s Ministry of Health as a senior officer and permanent secretary to step down from her cabinet job in two days.
Ceesay accused the country’s newest doctors of stealing drugs from public health centers to stash in their private pharmacies and clinics, sparking a protest by mostly newly graduated medical students, who took offense to her accusation of “young doctors.”
Ceesay called the doctors “corrupt and unpatriotic” but corruption and theft in the health system cannot be denied. However, it is established that the practice has been widespread for long but not by young doctors, who are the least paid.
“When you talk about corruption in the Health system, we all know how it is… these young doctors that will just go and practice pharmaceutics, some of them have opened their own pharmacies with the resources that we have. I am very sure of what I am saying because I was the PS,” she said.
Drugs from the Gambia’s medical centers are stored at a central facility from where it is distributed to health centers across the country. This tradition has not stopped medicines from disappearing but doctors say it is absolutely not from the health centers.
“We unreservedly condemn in the strongest possible terms, these defamatory remarks and find them very disappointing without justification,” said Dr. Ebrima Bah, the leader of the union serving 191 doctors.
“Dispensing of these drugs is done from pharmacies following a medical doctor’s prescription per diagnosis made, either for out-patient cases or administration within the wards for in-patients depending on the treatment plan.”
The minister now stands accused of being incompetent and lacking the “basic understanding” of procurement and dispensation process. Bah said that Ceesay could be deliberately scapegoating, knowing where the problem truly lies.
According to Dr. Mariam Mbowe, it is unbelievable that Ceesay is blaming the incompetence of her ministry on doctors [who are working in very difficult conditions to provide services], and forced to send patients to buy fluids outside the hospital due to lapses in Ceesay’s ministry.
Gambia’s health care system is under-served, ill-equipped and lacks needed drugs for critical treatment. Doctors also said they are being underpaid but that they understand that the country’s resources are limit and they are willing to make sacrifices.
“It is unfair and a sign of ungratefulness for the sacrifice we continue to make in giving the basic health care to the general population in the most deplorable of health facilities you can imagine being in,” said Dr. Omar Darboe.