Panamanian Medical Personnel Protesting New Law

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Brenna LaBine – Live and Invest Overseas News reported last week on Act 69: a law passed recently in Panama allowing foreign doctors to be hired.

To recap: The Congress of Panama recently passed legislation opening up their doors to the recruitment of doctors and foreign technicians in the provinces of Bocas del Toro, Cocle, Colon, Chiriqui, Herrera, Los Santos, or Veraguas, allowing the Social Security Council to hire 180 foreign doctors in the areas of cardiology, surgery, anesthesiology, and internal medicine. This law states that this open recruitment will be enacted for a preliminary one-year period in order to fill vacancies with foreign occupants.

In recent news, there has been a surprising and unfortunate reaction to this law, as doctors, nurses, and technicians have incited protests throughout the country. Act 69 was meant to bring doctors with particular areas of specialties to hospitals in impoverished locations—hospitals in need, where the patients are in need and without proper access to certain medical care. These are not big-city hospitals. And these are jobs that Panamanian doctors are simply not taking.

It is difficult to not notice the irony of these protests… Many doctors in Panama have now left their posts in order to protest this law, meaning thousands of patients in the past week have not had access to care, since these doctors are no longer available while they are out protesting against the hiring of foreign doctors.

One has to wonder what the motivation is here behind these protests, as patient-care does not seem to be of the utmost importance to these protesting specialists.

Hence, there has been frustration from President Martinelli, as there are plans to put money into building new hospitals, but there is a lack of sufficient personnel to staff these hospitals. He said last week, “There is no way we’re doing a hospital in Bocas del Toro and no doctors.”

Martinelli also said that Act 69 was meant as an incentive for Panamanians to obtain their doctorate in one of these specialties in a foreign country and return to practice in Panama.

So the striking taking place throughout the country seems not only counter-productive, but also unfortunate for the patients who are without medical attention in the meantime.

There is, of course, the side of the protesters; they claim that this is simply a step towards the privatization of healthcare. But according to Health Minister Javier Diaz, the text is not explicit about privatization and the matter is reduced to a presidential promise. He insisted that the “the word of the President is sacred,” and that there is no reason to continue the strike.

In the words of one knowledgeable expat: “I’ve been told, by someone who knows, that the law that the doctors are striking against is a law that permits foreign medical professionals to be employed in the interior facilities that many Panamanian doctors will not take. It is a law that limits foreign doctors to practice only in specific facilities, only in specific specialties, and only for a limited period of time, after which they must leave Panama. The jobs the foreign doctors will fill are those jobs that Panamanian doctors don’t want and won’t take… medical needs in the interior, not the lucrative big city ones.”

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