Moroccan doctors’ strike highlights public health-care problems

Demand for adequate health care is rising in Morocco
Sunday 28/01/2018
Legitimate demands. Doctors protest to denounce the Health Ministry’s insufficient action to improve public medical services and working conditions, on January 16.                                           (SIMSP)
Legitimate demands. Doctors protest to denounce the Health Ministry’s insufficient action to improve public medical services and working conditions, on January 16. (SIMSP)

CASABLANCA - Lack of equipment and human resources, overcrowded hospitals, low salaries and tough working conditions are part of a long list of problems affecting Morocco’s medical industry, those in the profession said.

The Independent Union of Public Sector Doctors (SIMSP) staged a nationwide strike January 16 as part of its continuing protests, which began in September, to denounce the Health Ministry’s insufficient action to improve public medical services and working conditions.

Dr Moulay Abdellah el-Montadar Alaoui, SIMSP secretary-general, said the union has been pushing public sector doctors’ demands since its inception in 2003.

“Our demands are legitimate but have fallen on deaf ears despite the succession of many governments,” el-Montadar Alaoui said.

Among the union’s main demands is that compensation accord with salary index 509. This includes a monthly salary of almost $1,800.

“Doctors in the public sector are paid like those with a master’s degree despite carrying out longer studies,” said el-Montadar Alaoui.

He called on the ministry to add two echelons to improve the employees’ financial situation, which he said remains stagnant when doctors reach the age of 38-40 until they retire.

“Twenty-three years of no financial incentives push many doctors to retire early, integrate the profitable private sector or migrate to seek better opportunities,” he said.

With a growing population, demand for adequate health care is rising in Morocco while the number of doctors in the public sector is decreasing. About 70% of Moroccans use public hospitals because they cannot afford to pay for private care, adding to the pressure on a public system struggling to meet demands.

Patients using public facilities and doctors have longer waiting times for appointments and medical services, delays that sometimes prove deadly.

“The health-care sector is bleeding. We went down from 12,000 to around 8,500 doctors in the public sector, which is putting a huge strain on them besides the lack of medical equipment in many hospitals across the country,” said el-Montadar Alaoui.

“By the end of the day, patients always point fingers at doctors,” he said, calling for the Health Ministry to set out an efficient long-term strategy to solve the chronic problems.

The government spends about 5% of the country’s gross domestic product on the health-care sector with $1.4 billion allocated for 2017.

Morocco plans to build 30 hospitals, including university hospitals in Tangier, Agadir, Rabat, Laayoune and Beni Mellal, and expand mobile hospital and emergency units. However, deteriorating public health care in the last three decades has helped the private sector grow rapidly and private clinics are mushrooming in Morocco.

Two years ago, the Moroccan government liberalised ownership of private clinics to boost investment in the sector. Previously, only doctors had the right to own private health-care facilities. Both local and international investors can now own a clinic or private hospital.

The reform was part of the measures backed by the International Monetary Fund to improve the health-care sector, whose funding will no longer be guaranteed by the public budget.

El-Montadar Alaoui said successive governments lacked interest in revitalising the vital public sector, especially after the latest reforms in the private sector.

A sit-in in front of the Health Ministry in Rabat and a march to parliament are scheduled for February 10.

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