Doctors, Who Fight Tooth and Nail to Save Lives, Demand Dignified Wages

On Tuesday, April 17, doctors and health workers protested outside of hospitals all around the country to demand medical supplies and better wages that at least allow them to buy food.

Photo: Román Camacho

“Dignified wages now,” yelled doctors outside of Caracas’ hospitals. With their white coats and their stethoscopes, they protested on Tuesday, April 17, in an action that was replicated all over the country. However, what does “dignified wage” mean for a doctor who went to school for five years, went on a rural internship and then specialized in a field?

Venezuelan doctors demand not a wage that allows them luxury, but one that enables them to buy the basic food basket, which, according to the Centro de Documentación y Análisis Social de la Federación Venezolana de Maestros (Cendas FVM) costed 75 million bolivars in March. That’s around 116 dollars by April 23, 2018, when this article was finished. In Venezuela, prominent doctors working eight hours in public hospitals barely make a fraction of that amount.

Their wage to date runs around three million bolivars, all benefits and calls included. That is just 4 dollars. Minimum wage in the region is 272 dollars.

“It’s impossible to buy an egg carton,” said Carlos Prosperi, president of the Medical Association of one of Caracas’ most important hospitals, José María Vargas. And of course it’s impossible an egg carton costs about two dollars. If he buys that, all he’s left with is a few cents, that won’t be enough at the rate inflation escalates in a month in the country.

“What we want is something that will allow us to buy food and medicine. We have two degrees and with my monthly wage I can’t even afford to buy meds for hypertension, that cost one million bolivars,” yelled José Garibaldi, a doctor in JM de los Ríos Hospital.

Their wage to date runs around three million bolivars, all benefits and calls included. That is just 4 dollars. Minimum wage in the region is 272 dollars.

But even physicians ignore if mere wage increase will be enough to get them off the streets, since only thinking about wages simplifies the humanitarian crisis, in terms of health and sanitary measures. What I observed in the protests this Tuesday by the people dedicated to saving lives, is that they want to eat, pay for transportation, buy their uniforms, study and… provide better service.

That’s why they also protested for supplies and medicine.

“That’s the minimum conditions we need to remain in the hospitals, because those institutions aren’t public anymore,” said traumatologist Daniel Peña. “Those are popular clinics, where people have to spend a lot of money to heal. We have no antibiotics, no pain killers, no supplies to properly clean our patients. The government needs to understand that hospitals don’t make money, they make people healthy and for that, medical supplies must be regularly provided. We graduate to serve, I studied five years abroad and came back and I am here doing social work, but with a health system that went back 70 years. Of course I want to do  the best I can, but without meds it’s just impossible.”

Achieving a 272 dollar minimum wage looks like a distant dream, since on their last collective convention, signed in October, 2017, the medical associations that adverse the government weren’t invited and many of the economic clauses have yet to be materialized.

Nevertheless, after three hours of protesting in front on hospitals, they said they will remain firm in their fight. After resources and wages, the list for practicing medicine in Venezuela tackles better infrastructure: even when it comes to something as basic as running water, according to the Encuesta Nacional de Hospitales 2018, proved that 76% of public hospitals in the country lack that service and that 53% of operation rooms are inoperative. They say it’s also about safer conditions at work and about putting an end to aggressions and harassment from hospital directors and surveillance institutions, all of this while they publicly denounce deaths for medicine shortages.

In the end, it’s about respect and the right to live.   

Mabel Sarmiento

Mabel Sarmiento is an UCAB-trained journalist with more than 20 years' experience covering community news, the environment, health, education and infrastructure.