Doctors in Sierra Leone ended a nationwide strike after 13 days on Tuesday, and now they're hopeful the country’s medical conditions and resources will be improved, according to Sierra Leone's junior doctors’ association.
The protestors asked for medical equipment purchases, additional resources, pay raises, and health insurance for medical professionals, Reuters reported.
“A doctor cannot be expected to save lives without the proper tools,” said Mamadu Baldeh, Sierra Leone's Medical and Dental Association’s (SLMDA) secretary general, on Dec. 5, when the strike began. “Can you imagine watching a patient die because of a shortage in the hospital’s oxygen supply?”
Sierra Leone is still recovering from the Ebola epidemic that killed about 4,000 people, including more than 250 medical staff members, in 2014. The devastating outbreak left hospitals short-staffed and stretched their resources thin, antagonizing the country’s already weak health care system.
Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 184th out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index. Approximately 60% of its citizens live below the national poverty line according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Read More: In Sierra Leone: "Then Ebola hit."
Sierra Leone has struggled to invest in its health care system and adequately pay its health care workers and medical professionals, in addition to dealing with corruption and the lack of infrastructure that exacerbates poor access to health care.
“There is no incentive to be a medical worker in this country because no one will help you take care of people,” said Hawanatu Conteh, a nurse at Freetown’s Connaught Hospital.
The lack of medical equipment combined with short-staffed hospitals during the recent protest had left many sick patients without care. At Freetown’s Connaught, the country’s biggest hospital, a witness told Reuters that some wards were nearly empty. While over a dozen people sat on the floor of the hospital’s entrance waiting to be seen.
Doctors were prepared to continue their protest indefinitely until the government improved healthcare resources, according to SLMDA, but decided to end the strike after the country’s health ministry agreed to meet their demands over the course of the next year.
“At this point, we can only trust their word,” said Abdul Njai, president of the junior doctors’ association. “It’s not exactly how we wanted things to go, but our patients need us now. They can’t wait any longer.”