No fewer than 16,000 doctors under the aegis of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) will begin a nationwide industrial action today over unpaid salaries, benefits to families of members that lost their lives to the pandemic and hazard allowances.
A breakdown shows that 16,000 resident doctors out of about 40,000 doctors working in Nigeria, representing about 40 per cent of registered doctors, are going to down tools today. That means a lot of medical appointments and surgeries are going to be cancelled, most patients on admission are going to be sent home, and more hospitals will stop admitting new patients because they will not have the capacity to cater for them.
In the last four days, Nigeria has recorded an average of 500 COVID-19 cases in daily figures as the government struggles to deal with a new and more infectious variant of the virus.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) figures, 497 cases were recorded on Saturday, 590 cases on Friday, 558 cases on Thursday and 535 cases reported on Wednesday, which is now the highest daily increase in the country since March 4, 2021, when 708 cases were registered.
The doctors’ strike is also coming at a time of outbreak of cholera in more than 15 states of the Federation. In the last 48 hours, death toll from cholera rose to 69 as cases exceed 1,000 in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), while the disease has already killed 169 residents and infected 5221 in Kano. Already, the NCDC has confirmed 526 deaths and 22,130 suspected cases in FCT and 18 states.
It is also feared that the situation would cause further brain drain and medical tourism where graduating medical doctors are leaving the country daily for greener pastures and more Nigerians are seeking medical treatment overseas, thereby draining the country of scarce foreign exchange.
However, private clinics, quacks, chemists, patent medicine stores, pharmacies and traditional medicine practitioners are going to benefit as patients and their relatives desperately look for alternatives.
Presently, President Muhammadu Buhari is on a two-week medical vacation to the United Kingdom, already spending a total of 201 days on medical leave as of yesterday in his six years administration (since May 29, 2015).
President of NARD, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, said that there was no going back on plans to shut down public and government hospitals due to inability of the Federal Government to keep to her promise to the doctors in meeting their demands.
“Even if they communicate to us now, there is no going back. It is now 115 days after we signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Memorandum of Agreement (MoA). They should be ashamed for not being truthful. We cannot be working and not get paid. You make commitments with doctors and you don’t keep them,” Okhuaihesuyi said.
On the negative effect the strike is going to have on ‘common’ Nigerians, he said: “The doctors are also human beings. Abia State owes doctors 19 months salary, Imo State eight and Ekiti two months. Those doctors who lost their lives have not got their insurance benefits and most of us are yet to get the paltry hazard allowance of N5,000. You bring out circulars that you are going to pay and yet you don’t.
“What will the doctor tell his or her landlord? We go to the same market with ‘common’ Nigerians and our children attend the same schools. How can we survive in the midst of this gross negligence on the part of government? If you were a medical doctor, would you be working in Nigeria? Little wonder more graduating doctors are leaving the country in droves. No wonder more Nigerians are seeking medical treatments abroad because they don’t trust the medical system in the country.”
Although President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof. Innocent Ujah, refused to comment on the strike by resident doctors, he decried a situation where the Federal Government is yet to pay benefits to the families of doctors that lost their lives to COVID-19. “Despite our efforts in trying to contain COVID-19, we still have problem with government in the payment of health benefits to those who have died,” Ujah said.
Ujah said there are between 40,000 and 44,000 of over 70,000 registered medical doctors with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), including resident doctors, that are presently working in the country.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Labour and Employment said is ready to initiate a dialogue process today as early as this morning.
The Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations of the ministry, Charles Akpan, said that as of last Friday, they were unaware of any impending strike action by the doctors as the ministry has a robust system that allows it to assume its conciliatory role creditably.Follow us on social media