By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
Gambian Public Health and Environmental Officers called off a sit-down strike over unpaid allowances on Monday 11th April 2022 until the end of May 2022 when they have been promised to receive their allowances. The statement issued by the Association of Public and Environmental Health Officers (APEHOG) noted that “on the 6th of April, 2022, Public Health Officers across the country embark[ed] on a sit down [strike] for their exclusion of an allowance scheme created for staff of Ministry of Health”.
On the 6th of April 2022, the Ministry of Health (MoH) posted on its Facebook Page that “the Hon. Minister of Health, Dr Ahmadou Lamin Samateh and the Senior Management of the Ministry of Health [met] with the Executive Members of the APEHOG at the MoH Conference Hall in Banjul to discuss on the way forward on the ongoing sit-down strike by the Public and Environmental Health Officers”.
A week after the post, it appears the issue has been resolved in the meantime. The APEHOG statement issued on the 11th of April 2022 and read out by Vice President Musa Nget noted that their Association “most recently [engaged] the Secretary-General [SG] and Head of Civil Service to amicably find a solution [to] the allowance issue”. This led to their announcement “that all Public Health Officers should report back to work on Tuesday, 12th April 2022, marking the end of the first phase of the sit-down strike”.
According to the Association, their decision to call off the sit-down strike “is as a result of [APEHOG’s] engagement meeting with the SG and Head of Civil Service that our entitled allowances will be paid by end of May ”. Urging the MoH to keep to its promise, the APEHOG statement warned that their demands should “be met by the agreed date to avoid reoccurrence of such a situation in the future”.
When our reporter questioned the APEHOG Executive on the total number of funds they are owed a representative explained that they cannot say exactly how much is “the total amount owed for each Public Health Officer. [However], the allowances that we are talking about have been demarcated already and we know exactly these are the types of amounts that we are talking about”.
“They have their demarcation for allowances and we also have our demarcation for allowances and these demarcations have been discussed with the Ministry and our Association here has also written all the allowances that we think should commensurate with the ones they are having and that allowances have been sent,” said Vice President Mr Nget.
President Nuha Fofana also intervened in his attempt “to put the record straight”. According to Mr Fofana, “these allowances [two of them] are new and both were promised to all Healthcare providers within the Ministry of Health. All Healthcare providers were promised these said allowances that we are requesting. So, it is not something we are coming up with”. The APEHOG clarified that the funds in question are not related to Covid 19 funding.
APEHOG Concerned about Intimidation and Unjust Treatment
The statement from the APEHOG included some worrying concerns such as “external efforts” seeking to “intimidate” Public Health Officers and what they described as “unjust treatment and discrimination” — “by authorities of the Ministry of Health”.
The APEHOG statement highlighted that “during these past few days, we have witnessed external efforts that sought to undermine and intimidate us, but we have realized how unified, professional and strong we are as a Public Health workforce”.
Another worrying concern raised by the Association alleges that “over the years, Public Health Officers across the country have fall victims of cadre discrimination and unjust treatment by authorities of the Ministry of Health. These unjust treatments include but not limited to unjustified redeployment of senior Public Health Officers, Demotion of Senior Public Health Officers, undermining the Public Health Officers expert opinion of Public Health Officers in matters of Public Health and most recently the exclusion of Public Health Officers in the approved allowance scheme for the Ministry of Health Staff”.
Who are Public Health and Environmental Officers?
APEHOG Public Relations Officer, Mr Gibril Gando explained that Public Health Officers are responsible for providing “vaccines, from receiving them, to storage, up to the point of distribution and injecting at the final point of service”. According to Mr Gando, most “emergency operation centres are mostly manned by Public Health Officers”.
Mr Gando detailed some of the challenges that Public Health Officers face by narrating how a Public Health Worker had to deal with a situation involving a dead body that the Police and other emergency workers refused to address. In that instance the Public Health Officer had to enter the enclosed space, locate the body and assess the environment for any infectious diseases before anything could be done.
Public Health Officers are also stationed at The Gambia’s entry and exit points such as Border Posts and the Airport. Public Health Officers are often seen conducting Covid-19 tests for travellers and suspected cases.