At least ten doctors were fired this week from Nicaragua’s public hospitals for causes related to the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The dismissals generated controversy in the country, controversy which has now extended to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR). The latter publicly manifested their concern over the occurrences.
The OHCHR expressed: “We note with concern the recent firings of medical personnel,” at the same time that they pointed out actions against free expression in Nicaragua.
Primary care doctors, as well as specialists in the field of internal medicine, surgery, anesthesiology, oncology and pediatrics, have been recently fired from at least seven hospitals in different cities of Nicaragua. The cause given on the letters of dismissal issued by the Ministry of Health was: “not fulfilling their responsibilities”. However, those affected allege “political reasons” for the action.
“It’s an unjustified dismissal. They did it because I don’t agree with this criminal regime, and you don’t have to play their game,” stated anesthesiologist Fernando Rojas in a video posted on social media after leaving the Bertha Calderon Hospital amid applause on June 9. The hospital is a national point of reference for maternal care, and Rojas is recognized as one of the specialists most experienced in the field.
Another anesthesiologist, Maria Nela Escoto, from the “Lenin Fonseca” Hospital in Managua, also nationally renowned for trauma treatment, agreed with her colleague. She has declared that her firing was “without just cause. I’ve never even had a question raised about my professional service.”
Escoto accused the authorities of carrying out orders from National Assembly President Gustavo Porras, the head of the Sandinista doctors’ union, who last April minimized the COVID-19 pandemic and called on his followers to attack the “epidemic of lying”.
Anesthesiologist Maria Nela Escoto affirmed that her firing was due to the fact that she kept complaining about “what was unjust”. She stated that in Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health “there are corrupt people” who are supposedly “protected by the [government-allied] Federation of Health Workers” that Porras leads. Porras himself has had international economic sanctions leveled against him by the United States and Canada since 2019 for promoting the passing of “repressive laws”.
General concern and solidarity
In solidarity with the fired doctors, Adolfo Diaz, a surgeon from the “Lenin Fonseca” Hospital, presented his resignation. Diaz declared that his colleagues had been “unjustly fired from the Ministry of Health during this pandemic”, denouncing as well the “arbitrary actions and lack of respect for the medical field. Remaining silent and becoming an accomplice to all these abuses doesn’t go with my principles.”
The cancellation of the doctors’ contracts came five days after the Ministry of Health fired Dr. Carlos Quant, known as one of the most outstanding infectious disease specialists in Nicaragua. His dismissal came for no apparent reason, which also caused widespread controversy.
Surgeon Jose Luis Borge, a leader of the independent Nicaraguan Medical Association, affirmed that the firings are reprisals for the letter made public last April. In this declaration, more than 700 doctors issued an “urgent call” for the protection of the health sector and denounced the fact that the authorities at that time were prohibiting the use of biosecurity measures. They also pointed out the lack of consistency in the government data regarding the pandemic.
Borge warned recently that some of the largest hospitals in Nicaragua were functioning with 10-15% fewer workers because of COVID-19, while the Medical Association confirmed the death of at least 30 health workers in the context of the pandemic.
Other organizations expressed their concern for the situation in Nicaragua, among them the World Health Organization, the Pan-American Health Organization, and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.
Currently, the Ortega government recognizes 1,464 cases of the novel Coronavirus and 55 deaths. This count is far lower than that registered by the independent monitoring organization “COVID-19 Citizen’s Observatory”, which has reported 5,027 infections and 1,114 deaths.