By Njundu Drammeh
“Every State is known by the rights that it maintains. Our method of judging its character lies, above all, in the contribution that it makes to the substance of man’s happiness” Harold Laski
At the very heart of the sit down strike by our doctors is “RIGHTS”, those “conditions” of social living without which no person can be that self that he or she wants to be. But from what I know, the doctors are not demanding a fulfilment of their rights; they are not even demanding for pay rise, perks, car allowance, equality of treatment with other professions. etc. They are fighting for the rights of the rest of society- right to life, right to the best attainable standard of health, right to development. This struggle is therefore a selfless one and all of us, the rest of us, should see this struggle, a Manichean one between a healthy society and a sick society, as one in which we have a higher stake. The wellbeing of each one of us is inextricably linked and tied to the demands of the doctors.
Anyone who have had an encounter with our health care system would know the sorry state of affairs of our hospitals and health centres. “Don’t get sick in The Gambia” is the warning shot. You may die of preventable disease or illness not for lack of doctors or expertise but mainly for lack of basic tools, equipment and medicine. Rabies is not suppose to kill. It kills here. X-ray machines are not enough. The barest minimum standards are not present. The basic equipment are lacking. Our doctors improvise to restore our health, to prolong our lives. “Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the earth” Archimedes requested. This is what our doctors are demanding too, on our behalf “Give us the tools and create the enabling environment and we would improve the health of the people”.
It is true that public hostility or anger is against the doctors or being whipped against them. On most of the media, the doctors are being portrayed as the villains of the piece, as unpatriotic, as haters of the poor who use the public health system. Some attribute the death of patients to them, their callousness. I think they are backing the wrong horse, the doctors are the fall guys instead. The one to be held accountable, the one against who our collective anger and disappointment should be directed at is the State, and specifically the Minister and Ministry of Health. It has the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right of the people to the best attainable standard of health. The death of a patient during this strike by our doctors should be laid squarely at the door of the Ministry of Health. Visit any of these hospitals and you will see an eye sore, you will come face to face with the “poverty” therein, the hard, harsh, unimaginable and heartrending conditions in which our nurses and doctors work.
We should judge the doctors on what they do, not on how their action is interpreted or defined. As citizens, just because we are citizens, it is our duty to scrutinize both the motive and character of governmental acts. We should know what what rights we have, the obligations of the State, the responsibilities of duty bearers and what standards the State should meet in fulfilling our rights. Ultimately, the State does not create but recognised rights and it’s character will be apparent from the rights that secure recognition.
To argue that the doctors do not have a right to strike because of their contractual agreement with the State and their Hippocratic Oath is not a useful approach to this problem. A denial of the right to strike will only exacerbate their disappointment, frustration and anger. It is to insist that the doctors must submit to whatever working conditions they have without complaint. It is to deny their right to association and its collolary rights. It is to give the State too much power over the lives of people. We must not forget that first and foremost it is the Government which has the contract and covenant with the people, of which doctors are part of, to provide good health care and has renege on that contract. The doctors are standing up for all of us, to demand that the State fulfils its contractual obligation with the people. The State must fulfil that obligation and give to citizens their due before it can demand, at least with justice, their loyalty. The solution to this stand off is the active participation of the doctors in the solution.
As a right holder, i am with other right holders, the doctors in this instance. Our lives are intertwined, our rights interconnected and interdependent. When the demands of the doctors are met, my rights to health, life and development are fulfilled. Rights holders must see each other as allies and support each other when one right is under siege or attack.
“For freedom, we know, is a thing that we have to conquer afresh for ourselves everyday, like love; and we are always losing freedom, just as we are always losing love, because after each victory, we think we can now settle down and enjoy it without further struggle…. The battle of freedom is never done, and the field never quiet.” Essays in Freedom by Henry W. Nevinson