Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fiji's fighting nurse leader takes on military regime

By Michael Field10 November 2010


When Kuini Lutua gave a speech to a nursing conference this week she got a standing ovation. Back home in Suva she runs the risk of an enforced trip to the military barracks to explain her outspoken criticism of what is happening in Fiji.

What she said as general secretary of the Fiji Nursing Association cannot reported under the martial law and censorship controlled regime of Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, who seized power in a military coup in 2006 and is not promising democracy’s return before 2014.

“I think with the latest coup…., it is really affecting the life of the country.”

Some good had been done under the regime, but health was taking a beating with severe shortages of drugs, equipment and things like bedding and surgical gloves.

“There is a lot of fear now; job security is not there.

Workers can see that things are not right but they cannot say anything…. This is leading to a much more dangerous situation where the health of people is being affected, she
said.

“There is a lot of depression in the country, depression caused by the stress level when they are terminated or lose their jobs,” she said, noting that Bainimarama had ordered
all civil servants – except him – to retire at the age of 55.

“We know a lot of people are dying earlier, 45, very early in life. There is a lot of disease… a lot of diseases that have come in are caused by poverty.”

Mrs Lutua said health cuts had created chaos.

She spoke of the loss of nurses from Fiji, with the government doing nothing to halt the exodus, of the very unpopular law changes regarding the retirement age for nurses, the lack of job security and the fact nurses cannot work any overtime.

“We can’t appeal against any government decisions but we are trying to create an awareness among our members that their rights are being eroded,” she told the 300 delegates from 12 Pacific nations.

People were not going to hospital because people knew that all they had was panadol.

“It is much worse now, the supplies are not coming. Nurses are told not to raise anything about it.”
In the past the military regime has not taken kindly to criticism. As well as censoring it out of the media, critics have found themselves taken to the military barracks and made to explain themselves under duress.

Mrs Lutua was undeterred and willing to go to the barracks. “Good leadership must accept criticism, constructive criticism.” She would give that at the barracks if made to.

“I hope they are willing to hear what I say. I am willing to talk to them…. I hope they look at the nurses with respect.”

“What we are trying to do is to tell them the practical things happening now, things that are happening that might not be reaching their ears.”

“I am only one person; if I am vocal enough to make them understand then I think it is worth a try.”

As it is, she has not been able to talk to Bainimarama.

“He thinks we are not important, he has other important people to meet.”

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