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Pharmacist strike hurts aids patients

HIV patients at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, in Accra, are uncertain if they will be able to continue collecting their medication. | Photo by Abby Wiseman

HIV patients at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, in Accra, are uncertain if they will be able to continue collecting their medication. | Photo by Abby Wiseman

By: Abby Wiseman

HIV patients line the hallway of the Fevers Unit Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra. They wait for hours for their name to be called, so they can collect their antiviral drugs. Normally the patients would get two to three months of medication at a time, but since the pharmacists are on a national strike in Ghana, they are lucky to get 10 days worth.

Juanita Sallah, the local journalist I’m working with at CitiFM, negotiates her way past the watchful nurses and finds Nana Esi, an HIV patient, sprawled out on a bench.

Nana Esi is concerned.

To put more pressure on the government, the Government and Hospital Pharmacists Association announced last week that they were going to stop administering drugs to emergency patients, the mentally ill and those with HIV/AIDS. Which means that Nana Esi does not know how much longer she will be able to get the drugs, and that she is relying on the nurses to accurately portion out her medication.

“We are worried, we are worried,” she says. “They just give us bit by bit, bit by bit. We are just pleading with the government to do something about it.”

We speak with another man battling HIV who refers to himself as Kwame. He tells us that the strike has become a major inconvenience in his life, because he has to travel four hours to the hospital every 10 days. This, he says, makes it difficult for him to work and keep a living.

The problem is that the government, under the Fair Wage and Salaries Commission, suddenly switched the pharmacists into a new salary structure, mid-negotiation, without any notice. It’s a part of a new public servant salary structure, called the Single Spine Salary Structure, which ensures that all public servants with the same education and occupation will be paid the same across the board.

The pharmacists were categorized in a much lower salary group than they think they should be- something closer to nurses, when they say they should be paid closer to the doctors. Instead of trying to negotiate with the commission, the Government and Hospital Pharmacist Association decided to strike immediately, exacerbating an already dire situation, because the doctors have been on strike since the end of March, leaving the care of the patients to the nurses.

Talks between the Fair Wage and Salary Commission and the pharmacists have been non-existent. When Juanita phoned the health minister, Sherry Ayitey, to find out what her ministry is doing to ensure HIV patients get their medication, she declined to comment. I called her after the story aired to see if she would like to have a word before I publish this blog. She said she did not know about the strike and hung up the phone.

After that exchange, I think of Nana Esi, dabbing her forehead with a sweat rag in that long hallway. She’s so sick and she is just trying to survive, but the politics of a nation are getting in the way. As far as anyone knows, there is no plan to help her or remedy the situation, and now the nurses are threatening to strike. She should be worried.

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