OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO - Doctors and nurses are on strike at Burkina Faso's public health centers throughout the West African country, leaving only medical students to help the sick amid outbreaks of dengue fever and meningitis.
In a desperate attempt to save lives, the government has requisitioned army health workers though many patients were still languishing without care.
"Our mother is in critical condition as she does not eat or speak anymore but since yesterday she only had her temperature taken,'' said Abdoulaye Compaore, who had brought her to the capital for treatment.
"With this strike there is no hope and we'll ask permission to take her back to the village," he said.
It is unclear how large a toll the three-day strike has taken: At the main Ouagadougou hospital, one-third of the patients seeking help at the trauma unit left without receiving treatment, said Souro Sanou, a spokesman for the hospital.
"There are only medical students and they cannot help. It is critical because even stretcher bearers are on strike," Sanou told The Associated Press.
Burkina Faso's Health Minister Smaila Ouedraogo strongly condemned the strike that is to end Friday, saying he was under the impression that some staff would stay at work to deal with emergency patients.
"We have been caught by surprise because the union had agreed to run a minimum service," Ouedraogo said.
This week's strike marks the first time that members of the health workers union, known as SYNTSHA, have gone on a complete strike.
"The government has refused to listen to us and this is the result," said Pissyamba Ouedraogo, the union's secretary-general.
The strike comes amid an outbreak of dengue fever, which already has sickened more than 1,000 people and killed at least 15. It also the season for meningitis cases in Burkina Faso.