Sierra Leone medical doctors on Tuesday started an indefinite strike over the alleged assault on a female member by a government minister.
The association representing junior doctors is calling for the resignation of the country’s Deputy Minister of Health, alongside the Chief Medical Officer and the Permanent Secretary at the ministry, whom were alleged to be involved in the assault on Dr Catherine Jackson-Cole.
According reports, the officials tried to prevent Ms Jackson Cole from filming a scene as cleaners at the country’s largest referral hospital, Connaught, protested over unpaid salaries. The cleaners have been on strike for more than a week, due to nearly a year long unpaid salaries, which has left the facility looking like a dumpsite.
But the association also believes the alleged actions of the officials may have been influenced by the doctor’s action on social media, exposing unhygienic conditions at the hospital, which is located in the capital, Freetown.
Largest maternity hospital
Tuesday’s incident followed a series of social and mainstream media reports exposing scenes at both Connaught and the largest maternity hospital – PCMH – that revealed lack of basic water, hygiene and sanitation facilities.
The doctors’ association said their members no longer feel safe working with the officials in charge of the ministry.
“This event is frustrating and shows the continued disrespect by the officials at MoHS towards the medical practitioners across the country,” they said in their statement.
“It is important for the public to note that despite the deplorable conditions and filth at Connaught Hospital and other facilities around the country, doctors have continued to work and serve the public with commitment. It is unfortunate that authorities that should mitigate the filth at the facility are adding salt to the injury.”
The association said its strike action will continue until appropriate actions are taken regarding the assault and the environment at the two main hospitals.
Female university student
Tuesday’s incident also comes after a video of an incident in which police officers assaulted a female university student involved a protest emerged.
Both incidents have sparked public outcry, amidst condemnations by leading women’s rights groups.
A statement signed by the Minister of Health on Tuesday evening called for calm, saying they were investigating the incidents at Connaught.
The healthcare system in Sierra Leone has been marred by inefficiency, largely due to corruption and maladministration, which has greatly impacted service delivery.
There have been reports of people dying due to lack of lifesaving services like oxygen or power cuts.
Last month, the ministry suspended the country’s top pathologist following public outcry over the deplorable condition of the Connaught mortuary.