Dar es Salaam. Doctors across the country are up in arms against what they described as growing mistreatment and harassment of health workers accused of malpractice in public hospitals.
They say recent incidents that have seen many of their colleagues suspended or fired by political appointees or even threatened by members of the public, sometimes on perceived malpractice, have lowered their morale.
They accuse the Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT) of reluctance to voice their concerns about the medics who happen to be implicated in mishaps at their work stations.
Their view is that the way some government officials have been handling the allegations levelled against health workers accused of malpractice at various hospitals has disturbed them.
“MAT used to be popular in the past for publicly defending the doctor’s rights, how come it’s now quiet?” one of the doctors queried as others continued to criticise the association for remaining tight-lipped on their welfare.
The situation has led to some health workers to take matters into their own hands. The Citizen is still making efforts to reach the MAT Chairman for comment as it has lately proved difficult.
However, sources close to this newspaper have confided that a group of doctors made their case with the Ministry of Health and held discussions over the matter.
Doctors and nurses at some hospitals are reported to have already staged a go-slow in protest of an incident where their colleagues were suspended from duties by a regional commissioner following the controversial death of twins during birth at their facility.
Mwanza Regional Commissioner Magesa Mulongo suspended five health workers stationed at Butimba District Hospital in Nyamagana last week, accusing them of malpractice. The RC’s move has since been criticised by the health workers who spoke to The Citizen.
“Blood shortage at a hospital is not necessarily an issue in which health workers of the facility deserve blame. Almost every time the National Blood Transfusion Services complains of the shortage across the country. This matter should have been investigated early before blaming it on the health workers,’’ said one medic in Dodoma.
Apparently, the relatives of a pregnant woman who had been admitted at the hospital for delivery complained that the medical staff had neglected their patient leading to the death of newborn twins during the birth process.
Speaking to The Citizen yesterday, some of the doctors, however, expressed their support for the crackdown being carried out by the current government against some of the errant medical staff who indulge in petty corruption and breach of the ethics guiding the profession.
But a MAT member, Dr Godbless Charles from Mwanza Region, has gone a step further. He has volunteered to assist the aggrieved health workers who wish to seek legal assistance from lawyers when they feel being “mistreated” by government officials.
Last weekend, he announced to his fellow doctors through their official social media platform that he was ready to help them to challenge recent government’s directives instructing the Medical Council of Tanganyika (MCT) on how to handle errant doctors.
There are no reports yet of any health worker who has sought assistance though Dr Godbless though.
Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu recently directed the Medical Council to take immediate action on medical personnel who would be implicated during the ongoing crackdown, including revoking their practicing licences.
Dr Charles noted that cases of medical malpractice, such as those involving maternal death, required an independent and competent authority to intervene.
His sentiments were backed by Mr Irenei Kiria, the Director of Sikika, a health advocacy NGO.
Mr Kiria told The Citizen in an interview that regional and district administrators needed to create a harmonious environment between the health workers and patients instead of being the source of animosity.
“What we are witnessing is that some senior officials want to prove to the current government that they are doing a great job. They are doing this by dismissing health workers but their actions seem to border on harassment,” he said.
Dr Kitapondya Deus of Tabora Regional Hospital suggested that before government leaders take action on medics, they must draw a line between problems which are a result of shortage of medical supplies and those related to actual negligence by the health workers.
“What’s the mistake of a health worker who instructs a patient to go and purchase drugs from a private pharmacy, when indeed the particular drugs are out of stock at the public hospital?’’ queried Dr Kitapondya.
The Citizen has reliably established that most public health facilities frequently run out of stock of medications and medical supplies, forcing doctors to issue prescription forms for patients to seek medications in private pharmacies and drug shops.
This, according to doctors, causes controversy among the health workers and the patients. “Take this scenario of patients who are on exemption. They come at the hospital expecting free medical care but it proves a challenge when there is no medication to treat them,” said one doctor who preferred anonymity.
Unfortunately, he added, some politicians have made patients believe that the health workers steal the medicines from their hospitals.
The Medical Stores Department (MSD) needs over Sh570 billion to end chronic shortages of medical supplies and medicines at public health facilities, but it is now surviving on a Sh80 billion budget, the MSD director, Mr Laurian Rugambwa, told The Citizen recently.
A survey carried out by The Citizen has established that some nurses in public facilities are taking advantage of the shortage to trade with some patients in medical supplies which they purchase from private pharmacies.