ERDENEBULGAN, ARKHANGAI PROVINCE, MONGOLIA – When the coronavirus pandemic first broke out in China, the Mongolian government was quick to respond.
It closed the country’s border with China on February 1, 2020, closed schools, imposed national lockdowns, and provided clear directions for the public to wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing. For nearly 10 months, decisive actions have prevented the spread of the coronavirus in Mongolia, earning the acclaim of the World Health Organization.
“Congratulations to Mongolia on the positive response to # COVID19, with 0 deaths so far and no local broadcast,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted in early November. “Thanks to the people of Mongolia for acting in solidarity and showing us that by following proven public health advice we can stop the spread of this virus.”
Later that month, Mongolia recorded its first domestic coronavirus transmission. And since then, cases have skyrocketed, particularly this spring when the government lifted blockade restrictions and encouraged people to come together to attend events related to the presidential election campaign, which began in May.
As of March, the country recorded around 100 coronavirus cases per day. By June, the number of daily infections had risen to over 2,000.
Mongolia’s health sector has long suffered from underfunding, which has limited care in parts of the country, particularly in rural communities. Now, due to the increase in the number of coronavirus infections, the healthcare sector is overwhelmed. Doctors and nurses say they are exhausted, and hospitals and family health centers are struggling with shortages of medicine and equipment.
The decision to lift the lockdown restrictions before most Mongols were vaccinated was a major cause of the spread of the disease, says Buyantogtokh Batsukh, head of the medical care policy implementation coordination department at the Ministry of Health. .
“Weakening the blockade without seeing vaccine results has become a major cause of increased infections,” he says.
Odonchimeg Batsukh, GPJ Mongolia
For Mongolian doctors and nurses, the pandemic exacerbates an already difficult situation.
Hospitals often scrub clean surgical gowns because they can’t afford new ones, says Ariunjargal Chimeddorj, an obstetrician at Arkhangai Province General Hospital in central Mongolia.
“It is normal for us to disinfect disposable tools and reuse them,” says Ariunjargal.
The tension in treating coronavirus patients has only increased the burden on the country’s medical staff, he says. “Now those in the health sector are exhausted to the core.”
A key complaint of many healthcare workers is that, at a time when more and more are being asked of them, their salaries have not increased and, in fact, have remained below the average wage for public sector workers for the past two. decades. The average monthly salary of health care employees is 1.1 million Mongolian togrog ($ 386), as of the first quarter of 2021, according to the National Statistics Office, compared to the average monthly wage of 1.3 million. togrog ($ 456) for public sector employees.
“Our workers, serving in these difficult circumstances, cannot be paid an adequate amount for their work,” said Narantuya Chagnaa, deputy head of the Federation of Medical Employee Unions of Mongolia.
Odonchimeg Batsukh, GPJ Mongolia
In March, the federation called on the government to double the salaries of all healthcare workers and provide additional compensation to those at the highest risk of coronavirus infection. A petition in support of the pay rise, signed by 20,000 health workers – nearly half of the country’s 54,000 health workers – was submitted to the government in June.
In response, the government agreed to provide one-time payments of 2 million togrog ($ 700) for doctors and nurses serving in the highest-risk facilities on the forefront of the pandemic and 1 million togrog ($ 350) for others. health workers.
Healthcare professionals have strongly protested against this decision, saying that a single one-time payment is not enough. The trade union federation of medical employees has threatened a strike if the government does not agree to double salaries.
To address the burdens on public sector health workers, the Ministry of Health mobilized private hospitals to provide staff and equipment to help fight the pandemic. The government is also working to expedite the training period for resident doctors and to increase the recruitment of new doctors.
The government has increased the supply of equipment such as respirators and oxygen cylinders in response to the pandemic, says Buyantogtokh of the health ministry.
“Aid and services provided to Mongolia’s health sector are not in a significant shortage one way or another,” he says.
Khorloo Khukhnokhoi, YPG Mongolia
Yet the wage dispute continues.
In July, health workers staged a week-long sit-in outside the government building in Ulaanbaatar, the capital. Doctors, nurses and other health workers in other parts of the country have expressed solidarity through strikes in their local communities. In response, the government agreed to treat all health care workers equally and provide them with a revised one-time payment of 1.4 million togrog ($ 490). But health workers have been steadfast in their insistence on a pay rise.
As tensions continue, the Ministry of Health and the Medical Employee Federation have set up a working group to study the issue and negotiate a pay rise.
“The Ministry of Health agrees on the need to raise salaries,” Buyantogtokh said, adding that discussions with doctors have been positive. But to raise salaries, the government may have to raise the cost of medical services and health insurance.
For Narantuya, the union leader, doubling the salaries of health workers would be a concession in itself. Even with that increase, medical staff salaries would remain below international levels, he says.
“The industry understands,” he says, “that the country’s economic situation is difficult during the pandemic.”
Editor’s Note: Journalist Odonchimeg Batsukh is an epidemiologist in Arkhangai province. He has not practiced the medical profession or contributed to the Trade Union Federation of Medical Employees since April 2020.
[ https://globalpressjournal.com/asia/mongolia/coronavirus-surges-doctors-nurses-fight-better-pay/ https://d26toa8f6ahusa.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/30214746/a-quiet-place-part-2-bigs-16.pdf