An epidemic of health care worker strikes
The provinces of Kwazulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape in South Africa are in the midst of a prolonged strike. State health care workers in Zambia are facing dismissal by the government if they do not show up to work by next Monday. In Adamawa state in Nigeria, health workers have started an indefinite strike and patients seem to be leaving the abandoned wards of clinics and hospitals in droves. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a health care workers strike has been going on for ages, though generally unreported in the press. Our sister blog, The Francophone African Bioethics Blog had a piece about this (in French) back in May, and the strike is still unresolved.
Each strike has to be judged, from an ethical point of view, on a detailed and (ideally) balanced account of the relevant facts. But some basic principles should be followed. Urgent medical services should always continue to be provided during a strike, and those providing them should not be regarded as 'scabs' or strike-breakers. Health care strikes should be regarded as qualitatively different than strikes in other labor sectors, due to the special value of health. For that reason, a as-swift-as-possible resolution of the strike should be the top priority of the health ministries involved, because of the impact that every day of the strike has on the ethical core of the issue: patient health.