Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: The ongoing nurse-midwife strike in the country has taken a new dimension. The nurse-midwife association took to social networking sites to air their grievances. In the process, they have forged a discussion in the new information spaces and rallied support for their actions. In addition, nurses have taken to social media to apply pressure on the government and expose the plight of medical professionals and the overall status of health care in The Gambia.
Gambian nurses and midwife associations in a nationwide strike make it harder to receive treatment. Nurses called the strike after talks with the government regarding pay and allowances with better working conditions. The Gambia’s health facilities face a crisis after nurses, midwives, and other health workers demand better payment, improve working conditions, and better protective equipment to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“No amount of intimidation, no amount of threats will make nurses go back to work,” an executive member of the nurse and midwife association who is not authorized to talk to the media lamented. “I will say it very clearly and again; court orders will not stop this strike, court orders will not stop nurses from dying, court orders will not stop infections or reduce infection amongst healthworkers. It’s our lives and we have been pushed to the wall. We are in a sitdown strike and — no decisions have to be made now on these matters.”
The nurse-midwife’s association has been engaged in talks with government officials to find ways to end the strike. The health workers are tapping into a trend that has developed in leaps and bounds in the Gambia over the past decade. This has seen citizens use social media to express their anger and speak the truth to power. The nurses and midwife’s association strike members show how the latest information spaces can negotiate, challenge, and resist power. It raises the question of whether social media can serve as a functioning public sphere within an environment where mainstream media is constrained by, among others, partisan interests and the bottom line.
Fatoumatta: Through various social media engagements, medical workers have magnified their individual and collective voices to speak about their own experiences and poor working conditions. They have revealed details about their personal and institutional realities, challenged various ideas and assumptions held by the public about the medical profession, and tackled questions such as ethics and industrial action.
By popularizing and using the symbolism Gambians have adopted against corruption, the nurse and midwife’s association has located their industrial action within a broader national debate. Medical practitioners are making it clear that their demands are not misplaced. Suppose the nation can afford to overpay travel perdiems and other allowances and fail to seal loopholes that cause corruption. Why can’t it afford to improve the Health Care system?
Counter-narratives: Nurses telling their stories using social media?
The nurses and midwife association has revealed their living conditions and difficulties in saving lives due to the lack of facilities. Some have argued that the authorities expose them to dangers about which public members are mainly oblivious. Among the issues they are highlighting are decent pay and benefits and shortages of medical equipment and supplies. The nurses have been trying for years to convince the ministry of health to provide desperately needed improvement to staffing and patient care conditions at our hospital states that have only been made worse during the pandemic. In the last year alone, nurses have filed several official “unsafe staffing” reports where they informed the ministry in real-time that patient care conditions jeopardized the safety of their patients to a nurse who wants to remain anonymous.
“We nurses report experiencing an increase in patient falls, an increase in patients suffering from preventable bed sores, potentially dangerous delays in patients receiving needed medications and other treatments – all due to lack of appropriate staffing, excessive patient assignments, and cuts to valuable support staff. As a result of these untenable conditions, some nurses have left to private health facilities, which employs many of the staffing practices the nurses are attempting to establish through this negotiation”.
Fatoumatta: Since the social contract between nurses and patients is not considered void under any circumstances, strikes by nurses seem to raise ethical concerns about their professional conduct. Here it is vital to consider that nurses in their entirety are human beings having similar emotions, feelings, and, more importantly, the needs as those of an ordinary man.
The cost of living is not different to a certified nurse-midwife as to another citizen. Therefore, bounding them with a social contract does not eliminate these essential human characteristics. Others have pointed to options that exist elsewhere. For example, a midwife nurse in his third year of practice wrote an email: “The Gambian Certified Nurse Midwife can easily make around US $ 96,000 annual salary compared to as average monthly salary as low as 15,400 Dalasi ($300.90) and the highest monthly salary of 29,600 Dalasi (US$ 578.35) a month,that some Midwife nurses make if they quits and goes abroad. But they are fighting to stay and make the system work.”
The health workers strike discourse is more than an industrial dispute. In debating health status in the Gambia through social media, the platform allows information and ideas. Various positions are put forward, discussed, and challenged. As a result, social media has become a functioning public sphere.
Fatoumatta: The use of social media has helped to advance the cause of striking health workers. Through these communication channels, they have managed to mobilize allies to their cause while internally galvanizing it. For example, in March 2018, a doctors’ strike lasted for days before an agreement was reached to end the work stoppage.
Alagi Yorro Jallow