Alagi Yorro Jallow

Fatoumatta: The ongoing resident doctors strike in the country has taken a new dimension with doctors taking to social networking sites to air their grievances. In the process they have forged a discussion in the new information spaces and rallied support for their actions.

Doctors have taken to social media to apply pressure on the government and to expose the plight of medical professionals as well as the overall status of health care in the Gambia.

The doctors are tapping into a trend that has developed in leaps and bounds in the Gambia over the past decade. This has seen citizens use social media to express their anger and speak truth to power.The members of the doctor’s association strike show how latest information spaces can be used as sites to negotiate, challenge and resist power.

It raises the question of whether social media can serve as a functioning public sphere within an environment where mainstream media is constrained by, among others, partisan interests and the bottom line. But through various engagements on social media, medical workers have magnified their individual and collective voices to speak about their own experiences. They have revealed details about their individual and institutional realities, challenged various ideas and assumptions held by the public about the medical profession, and tackled questions such as ethics and industrial action.

By popularizing and using the symbolism Gambians have adopted against corruption, doctors have located their industrial action within a broader national debate. Doctors are making it clear that their demands are not misplaced. If the nation can afford to overpay travel perdiems and fail to seal loopholes that cause corruption, why can’t it afford to improve the Health Care system?

Counter-narratives: Doctors telling their stories using social media?
Fatoumatta: The resident doctors association have revealed their living conditions and the difficulties they sometimes have saving lives due to the lack of facilities. Some have argued that the authorities expose them to dangers about which members of the public are largely oblivious. Among the issues they are highlighting are decent pay and benefits as well as shortages of medical equipment and supplies.

Fatoumatta: Since the social contract between doctor and patient is not considered void under any circumstances, strikes by doctors seem to raise ethical concerns about their professional conduct. Here it is vital to consider that doctors in their entirety are human beings having similar emotions, feelings and more importantly the needs as those of a common man.

The cost of living is not different to a doctor as to another citizen. Bounding them with a social contract does not eliminate these basic human characteristics.

Fatoumatta: Others have pointed to options that exist elsewhere. An obstetrician/gynecologist in his third year of practice, wrote: “The Gambian doctor can easily make around US $ 100,000 annual salary compared to as low as US$ 1000 a month,that some make) if he quits and goes abroad. But he is fighting to stay and make the system work.”

The doctors strike discourse is more than an industrial dispute. In debating the status of health in the Gambia through social media, the platform is allowing circulation of information and ideas. Various positions are put forward, discussed and challenged. Social media has become a functioning public sphere.

The use of social media has helped to advance the cause of striking health workers. Through these communication channels they have managed to mobilize allies to their cause while internally galvanizing it.