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Sri Lankan doctors strike island-wide against Ministry of Health's ‘Military Mentality'

Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), the union for Doctors across Sri Lanka, began their strike in five provinces; Mannar, Trincomalee, Nuwara Eliya, Ratnapura, and Polonnaruwa today. After failing to be heard by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health, the doctors will now engage in an island-wide strike against the “military mentality” and “adamant and egoistic attitude” of Sri Lanka’s Secretary of Health. 

The GMOA is protesting after the Secretary of Health published post-internship lists without the legally required approval of the transfer board. After their “token” 24-hour protest, they reconvened and decided to strike island-wide starting at 8 AM on 21 December 2021. 

“It is the accepted practice for a ministry of civil affairs to work in concert with the legal parties in order to maintain the smooth running of the public service, including health. Our membership has observed that the Secretary of Health acts with a military mentality without understanding the functioning of a civil ministry,” the GMOA said in a statement.

“Instead of correcting the list of illegally posted post-internships without the approval of the transfer boards, the Secretary of Health is now acting with a military mentality, exacerbating the problem,the GMOA continued

The GMOA wrote a letter addressed to Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, including five direct results of the Secretary of Health’s posting of the post-internship list; 

(1)    “Collapse of health care services within COVID 19 Intermediate Care Centers.”
(2)    “Crises Situation in health care institutions due to shortage of doctors in Ratnapura, Nuwara Eliya, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee and Mannar districts.” 
(3)    “Sabotaging the implementations of scheduled “Annual Transfer of Grade Medical Officers.” 
(4)    “Delay in Post Intern Appointment of 1500 doctors.”
(5)    “Delay in implementing transfer orders of Difficult Station List.”

The GMOA also highlighted “the imminent national health crisis if the issue is not addressed and rectified immediately. [The] adamant and egoistic attitude of the Health Secretary will create a crisis in [the] entire Health Service."

Ministry of Health's Response

In response to the initial token strike, Deputy Director-General of Health Ministry Dr. G. Wijesuriya told DailyMirror.lk, “the strike by the doctors is merely an act of sabotage.” He claimed that “neither the Health Minister nor the Secretary to the Ministry can exert any influence on the internship appointments. It is purely based on vacancy list and service requirements.” 

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella also stated the GMOA was "holding the Government to ransom," alledging the GMOA was "making unfair demands that the Government would not bw willing to comply with."

Island-Wide Strike

Dr. Fernando, a GMOA committee member, announced that after “a lengthy discussion, the General Committee of the GMOA decided to hold this island-wide strike based on seven unresolved demands.” The unresolved demands included the failure to publish the transfer list for the year 2022, the appointment of specialist doctors, and violating the National Salary Policy.

However, the GMOA announced that the strike action would not include emergency, maternity, pediatric, kidney and cancer care departments. Further Covid-19 treatment centres and vaccination drives will continue uninterrupted. 

Sri Lanka's militarized Covid-19 Response

Sri Lanka's Covid-19 response has received criticism internationally. Last month, Sri Lankan security forces held a vaccination drive for Jaffna students

Troops in the North-East continue to facilitate vaccination clinics under the leadership of Sri Lankan army commander and credibly accused war criminal Shavendra Silva’s coronavirus initiatives. Silva served as the commander of the 58th division during Sri Lanka’s military offensive in 2009 which stands accused of executing surrendering Tamils, sexual violence and the deliberate shelling of hospitals.

Many human rights advocates have voiced concern over Sri Lanka's militarized response to the coronavirus pandemic that state forces have used the virus as a guise to target, harass and surveil Tamil communities.

Read the GMOA's full statement here, here and here. 

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