Medical students still on strike over compulsory service

Medical students across Morocco are continuing a strike, begun on 1 September, against proposed legislation on compulsory medical service in the countryside.

Negotiations had failed between Health Minister Houcine El Oaurdi and students from the country’s five medical faculties of Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, Fès and Oujda, who were supported by junior doctors in teaching hospitals, reported Libération of Casablanca.

The students have boycotted the start of the university year, their courses, training sessions, practical work, internships and clinical consultations, said Libération.

In an interview with Al Huffington Post Maghreb-Maroc, published on 9 September, Jaouad Faraj, president of the Association d’Alliance des Lauréats et des Étudiants de Médecine au Maroc, explained the students’ grievances.

The student perspective

Their chief demand was withdrawal of the proposed compulsory medical service requiring newly graduated medical doctors to work for two years in a rural area. This would make their futures uncertain, claimed Faraj.

“In addition, the minister wanted to apply this to those who have already qualified, who have signed no contract on this with the state,” he said.

Faraj said: “They told us without any previous discussion we would have to do compulsory service, and that we would be paid 2,000 dirham (US$205) a month, then the minister changed his mind and promised we’d be paid like general practitioners. Agreed.

“But the problem is that after these two years we’d have no visibility. We’d still have to take competitive exams, find a job in the private sector or sign up for a specialisation.

“We are not against work in isolated and deprived regions; but we are against the obligation to work in a rural area without first being appointed by the health ministry. We can’t work, then after two years go back to having no job.”

Although the minister said publicly in the press and in parliament that he was prepared to meet the strikers, when they submitted their demands he ignored their claims and refused to see them, said Faraj.

He told Al Huffington Post Maghreb-Maroc that the strike was solid in all the faculties except Rabat where only 10% of students were attending courses. They were “the military medical students who aren’t allowed to strike, and foreign students”.

Parents give unconditional support

Five weeks later, in mid-October, faculty deans organised meetings with students and their parents, with the agreement of the ministries of higher education and health, reported Libération.

Professor Moulay Ibrahimi, dean of the Fès faculty of medicine and pharmacy, tried to explain the gravity of the situation, not only educationally but also practically, because medicine was different from other university studies, said Libération.

But the parents expressed their total solidarity with their striking children and gave them their unconditional support.

Some parents said they were not worried even if the action led to a wasted university year because the future for medical students appeared to be ‘hypothetical’, and if necessary they would not hesitate to take to the streets to defend them, reported Libération.

* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.