Hospital Strikes

For the past week, union strikes and protests have caused partial closures and diminished services to patients at four Salvadoran hospitals.  Members of the Professional Union of Nursing Workers of El Salvador (SIGESSAL) from the José Molina Martínez National Psychiatric Hospital in Soyapango have partially stopped work since last week while they demand the removal of the chief of nursing and several security guards, accusing the latter of patient abuse and denying entrance to the hospital to those in need.  The workers also say that the Director General of hospitals has refused to sign agreements made last June with the union.

Administrative workers from the Rosales National Hospital are also on strike to show solidarity with their colleagues from the psychiatric hospital.  They are also protesting the lack of order and misuse of staff within the hospital administration, as well as the depletion of 25% of the hospital’s basic medicine supplies (for more information on the lack of medicine, see La Prensa Gráfica).  “We want the new [2011] budget proposal to [better] organize the [staff] positions [according to job titles, descriptions and qualifications],” said Mario Arévalo, Secretary General of SIGESSAL (for more information, see El Diario de Hoy).  The union is also asking for a bonus of $300, which has already been given to workers in the Education and other ministries.  Government officials have criticized the measures taken by the unions, saying that they are counterproductive.  Mauricio Ventura, President of Rosales Hospital, said that while the union workers are disparaging the lack of medicine, they prevent more from being ordered by shutting down the administrative side of the hospital.

Since the weekend, members of SIGESSAL have protested hospitals in the cities of Ilopango and Zacatecoluca, demanding signatures on their contracts with the Ministry of Health and complaining about the lack of medicine and other necessary supplies. The protesters have stationed themselves outside the hospitals, hanging banners and blocking entrance into the facilities.

With increasing violence throughout the country and devastating poverty, it is crucial that patients have access to appropriate and efficient care.  Lack of medical supplies and poor organization are serious obstacles in the way to providing this care.  Even the directors of Rosales National Hospital have recognized that the lack of medicine has reached a crisis point and the Hospital is threatened with collapse.  Further exacerbating the problem are the high costs of medicines.  El Salvador has some of the highest costs for medicine in the world, second only to Guatemala in Central America while distribution companies mark incredibly high profit margins.  Eduardo Espinoza Fiallos, Viceminister of Sectorial Politics in the Ministry of Public Health has criticized the formation of monopolies among distribution companies, leading to such high prices.  “[The ministry] has discovered anticompetitive practices,” said Mr. Fiallos, noting that there has been extensive integration and buy outs between laboratories, distributors and pharmacies (for more information on high drug prices, see Diario CoLatino).

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