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Doctors in Panama Launch Strike Over Foreign Recruitment Law

Esperando en un hospital en Calidonia, Panamá. Foto de ORBIS UK en Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Waiting at a hospital in Calidonia, Panamá. Photo from ORBIS UK on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

[All links lead to pages in Spanish.]

A group of Panamanian doctors launched an indefinite strike after the National Assembly approved a bill in second debate that allows the recruitment and hiring of foreign medical personnel.

The indefinite strike, which began on September 27th, is the second thus far in 2013. The measure was announced by the Panamanian National Commission of Medical Negotiations (Comisión Médica Negociadora Nacional, or COMENENAL).

The medical profession argues that Law 611 seeks to privatize health care. However, Health Minister Javier Díaz made it clear that the intention of the law is to provide medical services in hard-to-access areas and to those with the greatest need without their having to rely on private clinics. La Estrella de Panamá quotes Diaz as saying, “And when a person can't get a medical specialist, what he has to do is go to a private clinic or move to the capital. It's incredible to me that what COMENENAL wants is to keep this bill from passing so that people will have to keep on going to the interior of the Republic to private clinics.”

Meanwhile, Mauro Zuñiga, a spokesman for the medical profession, made a statement to Telemetro, saying that “doctors, nurses, technicians, and health professionals are left totally unprotected under this bill, because employment stability is completely lost.”

COMENENAL also made it clear that, far from opposing the law in and of itself, it does oppose the government's approach. La Prensa cites Domingo Moreno, COMENENAL's president, as follows: “‘We are opposed to the recruitment process, we are opposed to the lack of controls, to the excessive flexibility, and that's the reason we're fighting'. He feels that we already have the tools to resolve the situation. However, the lack of creativity and initiative, the reluctance, all of this has led to the situation we are faced with today, he remarked.”

The medical profession has become unpopular among the citizenry because of its demands and its recurring labor strikes. One of the controversies is that some doctors work in both the public and private sectors at the same time, placing far more importance on their private clinics. With this strike, they will miss appointments and consultations which will often take months to be rescheduled.

Panamanians expressed their rejection of the measures taken by the physicians via Twitter.

There is a shortage of over 6,000 health professionals to fill positions in Panama, as Soraya Castellano tells us:

health worker strike due to passing of a bill permitting the hiring of foreign doctors. Deficit of over 6,000 health professionals.

Julio R. Gatica points out the irony in cases of doctors who close their public clinics while keeping their private clinics open:

We're in the midst of an “undefined health care strike,” but we'll take care of you in our private offices… Sincerely, COMENENAL. Ironic, right?

Francisco Alvarez decries this measure taken by doctors (which will only affect patients) who then blame the Ministry of Health (Minsa) for the consequences it could bring:

It's regrettable how this illogical and subversive health worker strike affects patients. When the responsibilities are spelled out clearly, the citizens know who's to blame. @minsa_panama

Other Panamanians look at the health worker protest with sympathy and see the new law as marking the beginning of a wave of imported laborers, as José Gutierrez expresses:

Today they're trying to approve a bill to import doctors, tomorrow it will be nurses, teachers, lawyers, engineers, transportation carriers, workers, and others.

One thing is certain: neither government nor doctors seem prepared to yield in the midst a crisis that reflects the practices of the current government and the medical profession's abuse of end users of their services. The indefinite strike will continue, and those most affected will be the patients. 

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