This post has been updated. See the note below.
CAIRO -- Egyptian doctors began a mass resignation campaign in state-run hospitals across the country Thursday after the government failed to meet demands for higher salaries, better security and a dramatic increase in national healthcare spending.
"We're targeting at least a third of the 50,000 doctors employed through the state. This will cripple the Health Ministry,” said Dr. Ahmed Shoura, a member of the strike committee. “Our campaign is going to resume until at least 15,000 resignations have been collected, then we will submit our resignations to the ministry."
For the last three weeks, doctors in public hospitals have been on a partial strike across the country, handling only chronic cases once a week. Thousands of doctors have threatened to submit their resignations if the state did not meet their demands in a strike that has become an intensifying problem for President Mohamed Morsi's new government.
The strikers are also calling for "corrupt" Health Ministry employees and former officials loyal to ousted President Hosni Mubarak to be removed from office.
[Updated 2:23 p.m., Oct. 18: Several doctors who helped organize the strike said the ministry has been unresponsive to their pleas for negotiations. However, Dr. Ahmed Sedeek of the Health Ministry previously told The Times that officials had been meeting with doctors to find a middle ground.
“Some of the people participating in the strike believe that the Health Ministry is against the doctors; this is not the case," Sedeek said. "We are doctors as well and the ministry needs all of its doctors to contribute.”
He said that while the doctors have legitimate demands, the new government needs more time to increase the health budget as promised and implement reform.
“Our main goal is to fix the health institution,” he said. “If the doctors don't want to give us a chance or abort the steps we've already taken, then this is just unfortunate.”]
Last week, 85 doctors resigned from one hospital in Cairo's urban slum district of Sayeda Zeinab, Shoura told The Times. He and several dozen doctors in Cairo and Alexandria have already resigned. He said he expects that they will reach their goal quickly because both doctors and patients are "fed up" with Egypt's healthcare system.
The total number of resignations has not yet been tallied. Currently, about 70% of doctors working with state-run hospitals are on strike, Shoura estimated.
Egypt, which is the most-populous Arab country, allocates only about 4% of its budget to healthcare. Doctors, many of whom earn less than $100 month, are demanding that the government raise the healthcare budget to at least 15%.
"After about 17 days of striking, the government hasn't even shown the initiative to review our demands because the Muslim Brotherhood sees this strike as a blow to the popularity and credibility of their Freedom and Justice Party and to Morsi’s government," Shoura said.
Several government officials have condemned the strike in local media, saying it poses a danger for the health of citizens.
Shoura said violence against doctors and attacks on hospitals, which have been occurring since last year’s uprising, have decreased since the strike began because patients and citizens understand that it’s not the doctors who fail them but the health system.
"People have finally realized that we are not the problem, the patients see how bad our healthcare system is and people are now sympathetic with our cause," Shoura said.
-- Reem Abdellatif