For the first time since the row between the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and doctors which led to a strike by the latter, officials of the ministry has commented on the saga.
Speaking to The Standard yesterday in an exclusive interview, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health, Dr Cherno Omar Barry said the on going strike by the doctors because they were unhappy is very unfortunate and regrettable.
“I understand that relationships sometimes can become difficult and challenging. But I am just pleading that whatever situation we are facing today let us suspend all acts that could probably cause the loss of lives as a result of our decision. I am appealing to the doctors (if we have not yet resolved this by the time you publish this interview), to sit again, discuss and find a peaceful resolution out of this. I am very certain if we discuss we will come to a consensus,” Barry said.
He continued: “I am sure also the doctors are quite aware that knowing the peculiarity of the health sector sometimes inasmuch as we have these challenges, there are limits to what we can do to ensure that we do not also affect the health sector.”
PS Barry said the ministry is more than prepared to engage the doctors to make sure that they find a much clearer part in improving their relationship.
“Our relationship with the doctors is like marriage and in any marriage there might be disagreements but because we love each other, we have to live together. What we are looking at now is where our strength is and not our weaknesses.”
“I understand the doctors because I have gone around this country and I have seen the workforce around and in some cases, I know under which difficult conditions they are working, but they accept that because of the love they have for the job and I want to assure them that the ministry is aware of the sacrifice they are making and we are resolved towards solving their challenges,” he said.
He said discussions are already ongoing and hopefully they would resolve the fracas.
Challenges faced by doctors
PS Barry said: “I think I would entirely agree that the sector is facing lot of challenges. What I also want to emphasise is that it is not unique as to challenges in the other sector…If you go to education they would be facing challenges and the same applies to all the other sectors. What we need to recognise at this stage is that the new government found these challenges there and it is doing something to ensure we get out of it.”
He said health is part of the National Development Plan’s crucial priority, “And in that priority it is to ensure we give access to health services to every Gambian through a revitalised prime health care, strengthen our human resources, improve our infrastructure, equip our hospitals and make sure that the conditions of those providing this health care are much improved.”
PS Barry said when the new government came they realised that the procurement of drugs was single sources and the drugs were not quality enough and sometime because of the single sourcing, the cost was exorbitant.
“So the impact on the budget was huge…So when the new government took office they decided to go through an international competitive bidding to ensure competition to provide the drugs at a very minimal price. As a result of that and because it is new to the ministry it took some little time because we were going through the all process of procurement, but when we realise that it will take that long we simultaneously take other measures. By November last year we had already signed the contract with the suppliers; they started supplying by December. We are expecting by March we will get all our supply in place,” he said.
He said the ministry has decided to immediately consult the West African College of Surgeons, West African College of Physicians, West African College of Pharmacy and the West African College of Nursing to provide the training in specialisation and as well accredit these people to be specialised doctors.
“As we speak now we already have the West African College of Surgeons and Physicians working in a sub-committee in the Gambia under the leadership of Dr. Kabir Cham, Dr. Assan Sallah, Dr. Ramou Njie and even members of other health associations. The Ministry is also working with the WHO, World Bank, USAID, UNICEF, UNFPA and Global Fund on a comprehensive review of the health sector,” he stated.