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Covid: “They thank us for the sacrifice, but they don’t pay us for what we worked”, the claim of nurses in Panama for their conditions during the pandemic

“Disappointed and exhausted.”

These are the first words that come to mind for Ana Reyes, president of the National Association of Nurses of Panama (ANEP), when asked how she feels after fighting the pandemic on the front line.

During the harshest months of the coronavirus, Reyes and his colleagues faced long shifts and grueling conditions. Some died. They were not enough. And he says that they are only recognized “with unfulfilled promises.”

“They make us commercial and from the Presidency they thank us for the sacrifice. But thank what, if nothing is fulfilled?Reyes tells BBC Mundo.

The nurse refers to the members of the union who are still owed payment for fortnightly work or those who were promised permanent contracts that have not yet been regularized.

In the last year and a half, the ANEP has organized partial strikes and demonstrations in front of institutional buildings protesting against “decades of deficiencies, unfulfilled promises and violations of salary agreements.”

In October, after one of the protests in Panama City with which they reached the gates of the Palacio de las Garzas, the seat of the Presidency, they were received by President Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, accompanied by the Minister of Health Luis Francisco Sucre, the minister counselor Eyra Ruíz and the director of the Social Security Fund (CSS) Enrique Lau Cortés.

“It is a privilege to serve you at the Open Door Presidency,” he told them, highlighting their “hard work and commitment” during the pandemic and vaccination process.

Ana Reyes, outgoing president of the National Association of Nurses of Panama.

Courtesy Anep
Ana Reyes has led the struggle of nurses in Panama to improve their working conditions.

After the reception, it was agreed to appoint a technical table of permanent dialogue with union representatives of nurses and representatives of the Ministry of Health (Minsa) and the CSS to find solutions, but Reyes says that to date there has been no significant progress.

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BBC Mundo contacted the Presidency and the Minsa, but until the time of publication of this report, they had not received a response.

First line

Like most countries, Panama needed emergency measures in the face of covid-19.

In the first months, “the crudest”, more than 1,000 nurses were hiredand nurses to deal with the increase in infections and hospitalizations.

Panamanian nurse during a work shift.

Courtesy of Anep

In the summer of 2020, Panama became the country in Latin America with the highest number of reported coronavirus cases per million inhabitants.

And in January 2021 it suffered the worst wave, registering more than 3,500 daily infections.

In total, the Central American country accumulates as of January 2022 more than 7,300 deaths and almost half a million cases.

Health workers have been working grueling shifts, first to save lives, then to administer vaccines as quickly as possible. 70% of the residents of Panama has already received the complete vaccination schedule.

“In many cases we have done 16-hour shifts with up to seven fortnights of payment delays,” he tells BBC Mundo.


Panama hospital with admitted patients.

Courtesy of Anep.
In its worst wave of the pandemic, Panama registered up to 3,500 cases daily. In total it adds more than 7,300 deaths.

At the end of April, the ANEP organized a 24-hour strike to protest the situation of its members.

In addition to the delay in their payments, they also claimed the regularization of permanent contracts and the provision of adequate inputs.

“We carried out the national strike because we had no other choice. We could never make a total one because the first thing is to serve the population, but we reached this point because there were compañeras who did not finish paying. Meanwhile, we heard the government was indebted with millions that it invested in the tourism sectorReyes lamented.

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Nurses in Panama posing in front of a hospital.

Courtesy Anep

The group had been denouncing the situation since August 2020.

“We have a law in Panama on the practice of nursing, which says that contracts must be permanent and not temporary, but that was violated,” adds the president.

In total, according to Reyes, Panama has some 7,000 nurses. Six thousand work in the public system, where most of the problems they report are recorded.

In successive meetings over the last year, representatives of the government and the Ministry of Health have promised the nurses the pending payments and regularizations progressively until 2023 and respecting the age of the contracts, something that, according to Reyes, is not yet being fulfilled. .

Nurses with signs in Panama.

Courtesy Anep

In addition, as in other countries, the Panamanian collective has mentioned in its demands the need to strengthen the national health system. They believe that the pandemic hit them hard due to endemic weaknesses and the urgency for reforms.

Claims all over the world

The demands of this Panamanian group are not isolated.

In several countries around the world there have been cases of protests and claims by health personnel.

In Spain, for example, in the last weeks of the year several photos appeared accompanied by the label #yosoycontratocovid in social networks.

It was almost 30,000 hired during the pandemic whose agreement expired on December 31, despite the fact that they think that their work is essential given the increase in cases and hospitalizations that is occurring with the omicron wave.

This November, in Mexico, around 60 former health workers from the state of Oaxaca demonstrated in front of the National Palace in Mexico City to denounce that were unjustly fired from their jobs despite the fact that they were at the forefront of medical care during the most serious months of the pandemic.

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And in Peru, hundreds of health workers earlier this year demanded promised payments and improved working conditions.

The toilet contract has been a challenge for governments and the pandemic has exposed shortcomings in many health systems in the world.

And although at first a lot of extra hand was needed, The progressive improvement in the epidemiological situation has once again left many health professionals without job security.

“Despite the fact that the media thank us for our effort, despite the fact that nine nurses died in their practice, of all the compliments we received, I must tell the president, on behalf of everyone, that we do not live on flattery and that the best thing he can do for us is to comply with what was agreed upon”, Reyes ends by saying about the situation in Panama.

“We are not demanding any increase, but rather that we be paid for what has already been worked on.”

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