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Talks Continue as Congo Medical Strike Plagues State Hospitals

Talks are continuing in the Democratic Republic of Congo to try to resolve a doctors’ strike at state hospitals across the country.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s national doctors’ union, SYNAMED, says that since the strike began Monday, only minimum service has been provided at state hospitals - with no surgery or consultations for non-urgent cases.

The president of the union, Dr. Mankoy Badjoki, tells VOA that local reports of emergency cases not being treated are false. He also denied that patients admitted to hospitals before the strike will be expelled within the next 10 days.

A Health Ministry spokesman, Senga Vuele, says progress has been made in talks with the union but they are still negotiating some issues, including the union’s demand for a starting salary of $1,000 per month for newly-qualified doctors. Currently the state is paying new doctors about $550 a month.

Another issue under discussion is taxes and fees on imported vehicles used by doctors, which can amount to 36 percent of the cost of each vehicle. Dr. Kabamba Mbwebwe, who works at Kinshasa’s biggest hospital, says said he and his colleagues cannot pay these fees.

“All these people in the government, all these people who are members of the parliament, when it comes to these kinds of privileges, they don’t pay customs fees, and they have new cars most of the time and not only one car," he said. "That’s why for doctors it’s really shocking to see that they don’t do it for doctors, who are working for the country.”

The strike, says Mbwebwe, is more complex than basic disputes about doctor’s cars and their salaries.

Other issues, he said, are pay for nurses and other personnel, the collapsing infrastructure in the hospitals, and patients’ inability to pay for treatment.

“When there is an increase for doctors, the other categories are going to make the same demands," he said. "So the infrastructure is very bad, the other personnel are unhappy and the patients, those who are coming, they don’t have money, because poverty is a serious problem in our country.”

Mbwebwe predicts the government will not be able to afford to meet the union’s financial demands and that the strike will persist.

But Health Ministry spokesman Vuele tells VOA he is confident of a positive outcome.