By: Alex Dmuchovsky
After a month-long strike, the health care system in Panama is finally back in full operation. Starting on September 27th, a group of Panamanian doctors launched an ‘indefinite strike’ following the country’s National Assembly approval of a bill that sanctioned the recruitment of foreign medical professionals, dubbed “Law 611.”
The medical profession argues that Law 611 seeks to privatize health care, however Health Minister Javier Díaz has stated that the bill only intended to extend health services to hard-to-reach areas without their having to depend upon private clinics. La Estrella de Panamá quotes Díaz as having said, “When a person can’t get a medical specialist, what he has to do is go to a private clinic or move to the capital. It’s incredible to me that what COMENENAL wants is to keep this bill from passing so that people will have to keep on going to the interior of the Republic or go to private clinics.”
The group of medical professionals responsible for the strike, the Panamanian Commission of Medical Negotiations (Comisión Médica Negociadora Nacional, or COMENENAL), firmly believe that doctors & nurses, technicians, and health professionals are being left completely unprotected under the terms of the bill. According to them, the “employment stability” of everyone in the field of medicine and health will be drastically affected, and not for the better.
The medical profession has become increasingly unpopular with the citizenry, due to both the oftentimes outrageous demands that are made by groups such as COMENENAL, as well the frequency with which they conduct such strikes. There has been some debate that doctors work both sides of the industry, seeing patients in both public and private clinics. Additionally, citizens are concerned that the health sector so willingly strikes for their own gain, while estranging thousands of patients who desperately need the care. As Soraya Castellano puts it: “Health worker strike due to passing of a bill permitting the hiring of foreign doctors. Deficit of over 6,000 health professionals.”
Patients can now rest easy however, at least for the moment, as health professionals and government officials worked out an agreement this November. According to The Panama News, health care workers won all but a few demands. Still unfinished are negotiations concerning the jobs of union activists fired prior to the strike for “disrespecting management.”
Although current negotiations are, for all intents and purposes, complete — it is apparent that Panama is in the midst of a crisis between its government and its health system. The current government in what appears to be questionable practices, and Panama’s health profession’s abuse of its responsibilities to patients are both factors that lead one to believe this is not the last we’ll hear about the healthcare in Panama.
Find out more about Panama’s: doctor shortage