Sierra Leone doctors strike over conditions, nurses may follow

Hawanatu Conteh, a nurse at Connaught Hospital, tends to a patient while the hospital's doctors strike over pay and conditions, in Freetown, Sierra Leone December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Cooper Inveen

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Doctors in Sierra Leone’s public hospitals were on strike on Wednesday to protest against low wages and poor working conditions, and nurses said they may follow suit.

Sierra Leone is one of Africa’s poorest countries and its public hospitals lack equipment. The 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic killed nearly 4000 people, including more than 250 medical staff.

At Freetown’s Connaught, the country’s biggest hospital, some wards were nearly empty and at least a dozen people were sitting on the floor at the hospital entrance waiting to be seen, a Reuters witness said.

Sierra Leone’s Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) said doctors stopped going to work on Tuesday and were ready to continue their protest indefinitely.

“Can you imagine watching a patient die because of a shortage in the hospital’s oxygen supply?” said Mamadu Baldeh, SLMDA secretary general. “A doctor cannot be expected to save lives without the proper tools.”

Nurses at Connaught Hospital said they would join the strike on Friday if it was not resolved by then.

“There is no incentive to be a medical worker in this country because no one will help you take care of people,” Hawanatu Conteh, a nurse at Freetown’s Connaught Hospital, said.

Health Minister Alpha Wuri did not comment on SLMDA’s demands but said he expected a resolution in the coming days.

Reporting by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Juliette Jabkhiro and Janet Lawrence