ASUNCION – Doctors of Paraguay’s public health system began a three-day strike Monday to demand better salaries, better hours and changes in benefits such as retirement conditions.
Lilio Irala, secretary general of the National Doctors Union, told EFE on Monday that close to 4,500 doctors – 90 percent of the total – have joined the strike at hospitals in Asuncion and cities throughout the country.
He said that all house calls, scheduled surgeries and out-patient exams have been suspended, while treatments for the chronically ill that cannot be postponed, such as chemotherapy and dialysis, as well the care needed in emergencies and medical crises, will be maintained.
With this protest the union seeks to reduce from 40 to 25 the number of years that doctors must work to retire, taking into account that they start work later in life because their studies take longer.
These conditions have already been approved by the lower house of Congress and doctors hope it will also be approved by the Senate and will then be enacted, Irala said.
He added that doctors also seek to establish basic salaries in line with the weekly hours they work.
“We ask that doctors be paid four minimum salaries (some $1,200) for 12 hours of work per week, eight minimum salaries (some $2,500) for 24 hours per week, 12 salaries (some $3,800) for 36 hours, and so successively and proportionally,” he said.
The minimum salary established in Paraguay is 1,800,000 guaranis, approximately $320.
He added that due to their low salaries, Paraguayan doctors in the public sector work an average of 60 hours a week, since each tends to work at various medical centers.
“Paraguay’s problem is the itinerant doctors. The same doctor works in the Health Ministry, the Social Care Institute, the Hospital of Clinics...to be able to add up his paychecks and improve his income,” Irala said.
He noted that the long hours affect doctors’ performance and causes them health problems, like cardiovascular and psychological conditions.
He also said that Paraguayan doctors receive no benefits for working nighttime hours or on holidays or weekends, as is normal in other sectors.
For its part, the Health Ministry announced that medical attention has been available as usual since 7:00 a.m. Monday morning, the time when the strike began, and that essential and emergency health services are guaranteed.