CAIRO: Doctors started Tuesday an open-ended strike nationwide until their demands are met and said that the first day was as successful as last week’s one-day strike despite attempts to undermine it.
The response rate was estimated at 85 percent as 227 hospitals across the country participated. About 75 percent of hospitals in Cairo participated, while the response rate outside Cairo was estimated at 85 to 90 percent.
"The strike was very successful; governorates and hospitals that didn’t participate on the first day were on strike today," said Rashwan Sha’ban, member of the higher committee organizing the strike.
Red Sea and North Sinai governorates joined the strike for the first time while Upper Egypt governorates witnessed the participation of central hospitals for the first time.
"Officials at the ministry and the government now have to make the choice on whether they want to make the health of the Egyptian patient and the development of the healthcare system in Egypt a priority," Sha’ban said.
A delegation of doctors is set to meet Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and Minister of Finance Samir Radwan on Tuesday night to convey their demands.
Doctors are demanding the dismissal of Minister of Health Ashraf Hatem, raising the health budget from 3.5 percent to 15 percent of the national budget, increasing wages, and providing adequate security at hospitals.
"We started the open-ended strike to pressure the government and to attract media attention in order to get any response from officials," said Ayman Shawky, a doctor at the Ahmed Maher Public Hospital.
"The heads of departments tried to operate clinics on their own but failed because we were all on strike. Most patients understood the reasons of the strike but others refused. However no clashes took place," he added.
Organizers said that doctors were threatened by the syndicate and the Ministry of Health that they will be referred to the legal affairs directorate at their hospitals and some were threatened with suspension for six months.
They said that the syndicate issued false statements through its website and faxes that the demands were met and the strike was postponed.
However, the syndicate denied issuing such statements but reiterated its refusal of the idea of an open-ended strike.
"The syndicate agreed on the idea of a one-day strike because it was a civilized way to convey our demands, but the decision to start an open strike was forced haphazardly by a group of young enthusiastic doctors," said Abdel Fattah Rezq, syndicate board member.
"The organizers broke the ethics and moral code of the profession and insulted the head of the syndicate, a senior doctor. Young doctors were used by the strike leaders for the benefit of doctors running in the next elections," he added.
Organizers, however, said that hospital managers admitted patients and examined them to prove that there was no strike while some threatened doctors using thugs at Al-Anfoushy Hospital in Alexandria and in Damietta.
A clinic manager at Al-Mounira Hospital assaulted one doctor.
"We are the ones who care about the patient the most; no patient who needed treatment was turned back and we spent our private money to provide medicine to patients today," explained Dr. Ehab Ismail of Al-Mounira Hospital..
The strike includes all but emergency and dialysis operations staff, emergency surgeries, deliveries and intensive care unit staff.
"Doctors’ demands are very fair and they have the right to protest, but I disagree with the idea of an open-ended strike because where else can we find treatment because the economy is down now," said Hanaa, a patient who wanted to visit an orthopedic clinic at the Mounira Hospital.
Doctors threatened to submit collective resignations and organize a million man march in Tahrir if their demands are not met.