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Timor-Leste: Student group concerned at state of healthcare, wants urgent action

Macao News - January 18, 2024

Lusa – The National Student Resistance of Timor-Leste (RENETIL) on Wednesday expressed concern about the country's healthcare sector and called on the government to provide an urgent response, stressing that "health is people's lives."

In recent days, the Ministry of Health has been criticised by civil society and the political opposition after it decided not to renew the contracts of more than 2,000 healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses and other technicians, who were not part of the civil service.

There has also been criticism at a lack of medicines and other consumables needed to treat patients.

"This has paralysed hospitals, centres and health centres," RENETIL's general secretary, Joaquim da Fonseca, told Lusa.

Asked by Lusa how many health centres are closed throughout the country due to the lack of staff, Fonseca did not provide exact figures, but stressed that outside the capital, Dili, the situation is serious.

"We don't have exact figures, but in the 12 municipalities there wasn't one without closed health centres," he said. "All of them have closed health centres and are sending them to the municipal health centres, which are also in need, and sending them to the central hospital in Dili.

"The national hospital is chaotic and exhausted, with no room for patients," he added.

According to Fonseca, the "Ministry of Health has decided to end the contracts of employees who are essential to the functioning of the sector."

According to local media, which quotes the Ministry of Health, these employees were hired to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

In May 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the end of the international health emergency caused by Covid-19.

"The fear we have now is that if a pandemic happens, our health system won't be able to respond," said Fonseca. "We're in the rainy season and anything can happen. [The] response capacity is at a very low level."

The RENETIL general secretary also expressed concern about the data available on the sector, from 2020, noting that in that year there were 671 doctors in Timor-Leste, which means that for 1,000 citizens there were 0.04 doctors.

"If some of those doctors have been sacked, where is the Ministry of Health going to hire new ones?" he queried.

RENETIL is now demanding that the government "review the staffing needs in the health services and take urgent measures" to respond to the sector's needs.

Regarding the purchase of medicines, RENETIL suggests that it is "worthwhile" for the government to "explore international cooperation, including with the World Health Organization.

"We have to be open, recognise that we have problems and invite our partners and friends to support us," he said, criticising the Ministry of Health for hiring a civil engineering company to import and transport medicines.

Fonseca expressed his satisfaction with the visit made on Tuesday by the deputy prime minister, Mariano Sabino, who is coordinating minister for social affairs and minister for rural development and community housing, to the facilities of the Guido Valadares National Hospital.

"We are hopeful for a solution because Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Sabino visited the hospital's facilities with the minister of health and we hope that they will design a quick, immediate and adequate solution to this situation," he said.

Source: https://www.macaubusiness.com/timor-leste-student-group-concerned-at-state-of-healthcare-wants-urgent-action