March 17, 2010 (KHARTOUM) — The Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir has reportedly ordered the ministry of health to fire specialized physicians who have officially gone on week-long strike to press the government to pay back wages and improve their working conditions.
The independent Al-Sahafa newspaper quoted an unidentified source as saying that the strike, which is the first of its kind among this profession in years, has included specialized doctors all over the country including Port Sudan, Al-Obaid, Kosti, Kassala, Al-Gadaref, Kadugli, Al-Fasher, Dongola and the Red Sea.
Exceptions to the strike were in Al-Sha’ab hospital and those in the Southern states. The emergency rooms were also excluded but one of the lead doctors on this move in an interview with UN sponsored Miraya FM radio, threatened a comprehensive strike should any of their peers is assaulted or harassed by the authorities.
Nahid Mohamed Al-Hassan, one of the female doctors, took an extra step and went of food strike to protest the ultimatum made by Bashir which expired Wednesday morning. Al-Hassan said on a video uploaded to You Tube website that she felt "ashamed" that the government has resorted to violence instead of resolving their problems.
"He [Bashir] does not know that all Sudan is on strike, in twenty five major cities...people are suffering because of this strike. We would have expected that this government would possess some transparency, some integrity, some manners so that things do not deteriorate further" she said.
Al-Hassan said that doctors are left with few options including resignation or moving to work abroad adding that she feels that she is doing this for the Sudanese people and that she is prepared to die from hunger until the doctors get an apology and their rights reinstated.
She expressed fury over what she called attempts by the governments to defame the doctors who went on strike by saying that they have political agendas.
The doctors claim they have 20 million pounds in back wages and also want a pay increase and improving housing and work environment. A ministry of finance official told the London based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper that they have broken up the past due wages into three installments with the last one to be satisfied next month and dismissed the strike as political in nature.
The health ministry downplayed the impact of the strike saying that they a committee is working on examining the restructuring of wages and will submit recommendations to the government saying this will take some time. The state health minister Hassan Abu-Aisha said that the strikers were fearful over the chances of a new government coming after the April elections.
Tabita Boutros, the health minister said in press statements that they are able to cover any gaps resulting from the strike.
The doctors have challenged Bashir to fire them saying "they have a cause". The intervention by Bashir in this forceful manner is seen as rare given his policy in recent years to avoid tarnishing his image in appearing to take unpopular decisions particularly when he is running for elections.
Observers say that the government is torn between putting the issue to bed in an election year by agreeing to meet the demands and opening the door for a precedent that would encourage other sectors to make similar move. Many government employees such as teachers and railroad workers have been complaining about back wages and working conditions despite an economic boom in the oil producing nation.
Many citizens have been critical of what they view as "irresponsible" spending by the government on unnecessary items rather than focusing on basic needs of the people.
The strike will likely paralyze large part of hospitals in the country. The US State Department currently discourages its citizens with medical conditions from traveling to Sudan saying that medical facilities in Khartoum fall short of US standards and that outside the capital, very few facilities exist and hospitals and clinics are poorly equipped