CAIRO: Doctors protested outside the Cabinet headquarters Thursday to reiterate demands of better healthcare, better pay and security at hospitals.
About 200 doctors representing hospitals across the country were joined by striking public transport drivers and workers at air-conditioning manufacturer, Unionaire.
Thousands of doctors are reportedly on strike, but as the strike enters its second week, it was difficult to estimate its size across the country.
Doctors at the demonstration said some hospitals were on a partial strike while others, as in Ismailia governorate, were completely shut down. Mohamed Shafiq, a physician at Manshiyet El-Bakry Hospital, said the strike was in most hospitals whether partial or full.
“I am against the strike, so we at the Abbaseya Chest Public Hospital decided to divide who will come to the Cabinet and who will work,” said a protester who identified herself as Gehan, refusing to give her second name.
She added that the next steps are unclear, however if the Cabinet, under the leadership of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, refuses to respond appropriately to demands, they may resign altogether.
Doctors have been demanding raising their salaries from LE 300 and increasing spending on health from 3-4 percent to 15 percent of the national budget.
“Egyptian doctors are [like] superman; they diagnose patients without equipments,” one protester said.
“As much as it is important, the last thing we care about is our salaries. What everyone must understand is that public hospitals have no equipment, patients suffer and we can’t help them,” said Ahmed El-Gharabawy, a nephrologist at El Beheira Hospital.
Other demands include increasing the compensation doctors receive for occupational hazards, from LE 20 to LE 500.
Last month, Minister of Health Amr Helmy said LE 940 million would be allocated to salary reform in the medical sector. The funds are to go into increasing the salaries for doctors, dentists, pharmacists and nurses.
Doctors at the protest said they didn’t see any extra funds.
In addition to providing security for the hospitals, doctors demand an educational program for practitioners and dismissing corrupt officials at the ministry.
Shafiq said that ministry officials did not care enough to take their demands into proper consideration, which was why they will escalate.
"We will agree about what to do in the next few days and we will include all our healthcare workers in [the decision]," he said.
“Dismissing the minister of health is not our goal but if he is going to continue to tell us ‘there’s nothing in my hands’ then may be he should go,” said Doctor Mona Nasser, one of the protesters.
“Patients sleep alongside cockroaches and cats. Those who weren’t sick might come out of the hospital in a terrible health state. What type of quality is this?”
Doctors had called for a strike on Sept. 10 to demand better pay after they reportedly received the August salary without any of the incentives promised by the health minister.
“A group of young physicians met [the minister] a week ago but he couldn’t even give them a promise,” said Nasser.
Earlier this month, the minister announced that the government would raise doctors’ minimum salaries to LE 1,000 starting October. He then denied the ministry could raise the salaries more than 50 percent.
All interviewed doctors at the strike insisted that the ministry hasn’t taken any proper decisions to help end the strike.
Chants during the protest included “Doctors want the patients’ rights,” “Tantawi, Tantawi the poor need a bed,” and “Our demands are not sectoral, our demands are humane.”