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Strike at government hospitals causes 1,366 deaths in Kinshasa


KINSHASA, 17 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - A month-long strike by doctors, nurses and other medical personnel in government hospitals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has resulted in 1,360 deaths in the capital, Kinshasa, an official of local human rights NGO said on Wednesday.

Amigo Gonde, president of the Association africaine de defense des droits de l'homme (African Association for Human Rights), said the dead were recorded at the morgue of the 1,500-bed Kinshasa General Hospital.

The association carried out its survey of the hospital for the period of 10 January to 8 February. Gonde said the survey enabled the association to measure the impact of the strike on the public.

Although the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Miaka Mia Bilenge, did not dispute that patients were dying as a result of the strike, he said, "I cannot confirm the figures."

He said most of the city's 12 hospitals did not have morgues and usually took their dead to the Kinshasa General Hospital.

"The scope of the strike is certainly underestimated because these figures stem only from one government hospital," Gonde said.

Like much of the nation's infrastructure, public health facilities lack equipment and are in a dilapidated state after decades of neglect and five years of civil war.

Doctors initiated the strike demanding better pay and the same status accorded other public servants who are entitled to salaries from US $30 to $70 monthly. Three weeks after their walkout in December 2004, the doctors were promised better pay and received a one-time premium of $170 to $361, before they returned to work.

"We can go back on strike anytime if the situation does not improve," Dr Bolangala Basele, of the National Union of Doctors, said.

Nurses and paramedics in government hospitals and clinics nationwide later joined the doctors and their strike continues, paralysing medical care in government institutions.

"It is unfortunate that our action has enormous consequences, but we will not be forced back to work without at least getting what is promised," Mutumba Mpoyo, the spokesperson of the umbrella of the union of paramedics, said. "We, paramedics, want a risk premium equal to that of the doctors, in accordance with our individual qualifications."

The government is making attempts to allocate seven billion Congolese francs ($14.9 million) to meet the demands by the nurses and the paramedics.

"The authorities cannot be accused of bad intentions - the process of fund allocation to meet the promises has already started. There is no more reason to continue the strike," Bilenge said.

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