Health workers in Chad commenced an indefinite strike last week. The workers who are members of L’Union des Syndicats du Tchad, le Syndicat National des Enseignants et Chercheurs du Supérieur and la Confédération Indépendante des Syndicats du Tchad are demanding the payment of backlogs of salaries, and suspension of public finance recovery measures in the health sector.
The action has been very successful, despite efforts of the government to discredit it. Services delivery in virtually all healthcare facilities, including the national tertiary hospital, have been largely halted. As a humanitarian gesture, though, skeletal services are provided in the accident and emergency departments of hospitals.
Doctors, nurses, health technologists, technicians and other workers have not been paid salaries for at least two months. This situation arises partly from the public finance recovery measures of the government, inspired by advice from International Financial Institutions, such as the IMF.
The West African country’s economic growth slowed down with the collapse of oil prices in the global market. GDP growth declined from 6.9% in 2014 to 1.8% last year. Insecurity also poses a challenge. The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria spilled over into Chad and other neighbouring countries.
In July, IMF seized on this scenario to recommend “limited spending commitments” to the Chadian government, asking it to “focus on stricter spending controls and enhanced spending efficiency.” Health is however not a commodity; it is a human right. It requires adequate funding, which includes the payment of health workers’ salaries as, and when due.
Chad’s economy grew at an exponential rate after oil became its major export earner in 2003. From an average of 3% annual GDP growth in the 1990s, average GDP growth rate from 2001 to 2013 was about 7%. But the main beneficiaries of this were a few persons within government or closely associated to them.
Poverty is still very prevalent, with poverty indices that are abysmal, even compared to other sub-Saharan African countries. The country is ranked as the seventh poorest worldwide in the United Nations Human Development Index. Reforms which limit the funding of public healthcare delivery will only make a terrible situation worse for millions of pauperised Chadians.
Curbing corruption and steeped progressive taxation would help expand the needed revenue base for funding public services and making life better for the teeming mass of poor people in the urban and rural areas of Chad. It would also contribute to building a more inclusive society.
The struggle of health workers in the country is thus of immense significance. It is for decent work and social justice.
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