The ongoing strike action by Nigerian doctors may lead to loss of lives, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, has said.
The doctors under the aegis of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) on Monday announced their decision to embark on an indefinite strike amidst increasing cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria.
Resident doctors are certified doctors undergoing residency to become consultants. They make up a large bulk of doctors in Nigeria’s tertiary hospitals.
The NARD, in a communique issued at the end of its virtual extraordinary National Executive Council Meeting, noted the non-payment of allowances and inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as part of reasons for embarking on the industrial action.
Health workers, being the first respondents to patients, have continued to be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 virus.
Although health workers have been advised to use full PPE before attending to patients, many do not have access to these equipment.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, earlier said the centre is distributing enough PPE to health workers who are frontliners in the fight against COVID-19.
As of June 2, about 812 health workers had tested positive for COVID-19 in Nigeria.
Mr Ehanire while responding to questions at the daily Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing on Monday urged the doctors to show empathy by calling off the strike.
“Today we had a meeting with the House Committee Chairman on Health. NARD were also in attendance. At that meeting, they had not yet declared their position on the strike.
“I also did request that this is not the time to go on strike; not when we have a very difficult situation on our hands.
“I requested them to show enough empathy to know that we will continue to work on their demand and they should not down their tools because the lives that may be lost in that process are not replaceable,” he said.
Although he noted that some of the issues raised are not new, he said they will all be attended to.
“But we are very certain that the issues that were raised will be attended to, even though some of them are not very new and some of them date back to few years ago.
“Some of them have nothing to do with COVID-19, but have to do with residency training programmes. They are all being attended to. There are series of demands and some of them are not current,” he said.
The minister said issues surrounding PPE “have been addressed”.
“The ones concerned with personal protective equipment for example, concerning COVID-19, have been dealt with.
“We have supplied all the personal protective equipment to states and to teaching hospitals and that one is off the table,” he said.