The resumption by members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) on Wednesday after a nine-week industrial action was a big relief for many Nigerians who have had to endure their long absence from work.
Regina Ameh had been booked for surgery at the Asokoro District Hospital, Abuja, before the resident doctors commenced the indefinite strike action on 2 August .
But Mrs Ameh, who is in her 40s, had to cope with “excruciating” pain while the strike lasted.
She was, therefore, one of the first patients to arrive at the hospital on Wednesday, saying she had waited and prayed fervently for the strike to end.
“I have fibroids and it was to be removed via surgery when suddenly the strike started. I cried as if the world would end,” she told PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter on Wednesday.
Similarly, 35-year-old Musa Shehu said he has been registered with the hospital for a long time and was used to the place, and that he couldn’t afford private hospitals.
“So I am happy that the doctors are available to attend to us today. I have been waiting for this day,” Mr Shehu said.
At the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Ebute-Metta, Lagos, doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists and attendants were busy attending to patients who had visited the facility in their large numbers.
“In fact, I don’t know if anyone will have the time to talk to you because a lot of samples have been coming in unlike the last time you came that we were less busy,” a laboratory scientist, who does not want to be mentioned, told our reporter at the hospital.
At the maternity unit of the facility, a nurse, who also does not want to be quoted, said as of Wednesday afternoon, 35 pregnant women were already attended to by the doctors.
“Of the 35, 14 are new mothers. Before the strike, we used to see an average of 40 per day. So the number is still in order,” the nurse said.
The situation was similar at Wuse District Hospital, where all the departments were opened and staff of all categories including doctors were busy attending to patients.
But at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Josiah Isaac, who had visited the hospital from Ogijo, a nascent community in Ogun State that shares boundary with Lagos State, said as of 12 noon, he was yet to be attended to by the doctors.
Mr Isaac, in his 60s, who had visited the urology unit of the hospital for a check-up, said he did not bother to show up during the strike.
“During the strike, I only continued with the drugs they prescribed for me, I didn’t bother to come. Now, coming from a far place and not yet attended to by the doctor can be frustrating,” he lamented.
Frank Ekwere had also returned his mother, Grace Ekwere, to the hospital on Wednesday after they were turned back on 15 September when the old woman developed a “respiratory and rheumatology-related medical crisis.”
According to the son, as a result of the strike, a private drug store owner was consulted and had been managing the mother until the suspension of the industrial action by the doctors.
“My mother cannot work alone without being assisted. But now that the strike is over, she has been attended to this morning and we have been asked to go for some medical tests, as usual,” Mr Ekwere told our reporter.
At the Kubwa General Hospital, Abuja, scores of patients were seen being attended to by the healthcare workers when our reporter visited on Wednesday.
For instance, the eye clinic, which was under lock while the strike lasted, was opened on wednesday with patients receiving care.
Emeka Ani, a Kubwa resident, who was at the eye clinic for a check-up, expressed relief that the strike was suspended.
“As you can see, the hospital is full today unlike when the strike was on. I just hope they don’t go on strike for this long again,” he said.
At the maternal unit, scores of patients and their relatives could also be seen waiting for turns.
Daniel Mbah, who said his wife was in the labour room, said there was noticeable change in activities at the hospital.
Businesses boom again
Meanwhile, traders and business owners within the location of hospitals’ neighbourhoods have expressed satisfaction that the strike by the resident doctors was over.
Oladeinde Lucas is the owner of Foodie Restaurant at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, who was excited that the strike was over.
According to Mr Lucas, the strike by the doctors had created an atmosphere that was similar to what he experienced during the lockdown that was imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“While the strike lasted, this place was like a ghost town. I didn’t know that the resident doctors were so important. Business was poor but we hope things will pick up now,” He told our reporter.
He, however, noted that he could not prepare much meal since it was just the first day of resumption. “We didn’t want to gamble because we suspected many people may not know about the resumption yet.”
A food seller at the Asokoro District Hospital who is popularly called Hajiya was also happy that her business has started improving.
She said, though the strike lingered for too long, “everyone is happy that the doctors are back to work.”
Also, a seller of Okpa, a local delicacy, who identified herself simply as Rachael, said the long strike affected her daily income. “I was still bringing Okpa to this place as usual but the strike really affected sales.”
Also, at the National Hospital, Abuja, Rose Oman, who sells bananas opposite the hospital, hailed the doctors for calling off the strike.
“I have made a lot of sales today unlike in previous weeks during the strike,” Ms Oman said.
Other people selling items such as corn, groundnuts and oranges were also having a busy day.
But at the taxi part in front of the hospital, Emeka Akpa, a driver, said passengers were yet to patronise them like before.
He hopes that in the coming days normalcy would return.
A medical student at the College of Medicine of the University of Lagos (CMUL), Idi-Araba, Obianyor Chinedu, said with the resident doctors returning to work, learning could be fun again.
According to the student, since the consultants were busy with the patients and other engagements that should ordinarily be handled by the resident doctors, there was little the students could learn during practical classes.
“The resident doctors have been very busy since they resumed today. They like to teach and they usually join the consultants to teach us but during the strike we were taught by only the consultants and because they were also the ones taking care of all patients, the workload couldn’t allow them to give us enough attention,” he said.
He added that though the strike didn’t affect the academic calendar, it impacted negatively on the practical classes.
Another student, who resumed an internship programme at the hospital two weeks ago, said she had seen the difference between when there was a strike and now that the doctors have resumed.
Most of the NARD members that our reporters spoke to offered to speak only on condition of anonymity.
While some of them are excited to return to work, they also hope that the Nigerian government will fulfill its own sides of the agreements.
“As you can see, we have resumed but that only depends on how the government responds to our demands. At least, in the interest of the patients we would not like to stay out of work again,” a resident doctor at the Kubwa general hospital, Abuja, said.
Lasisi Muiden, the hospital’s Chief Medical Director (CMD), also expressed relief with the resumption by the resident doctors. He said full activities are gradually returning to all the wards and departments in the hospital.
“Go around, you can see that every unit and department is very busy. The resident doctors are fully back and we hope it stays that way,” he said.
Mr Muiden,however, did not provide any response on what will happen to the locum doctors and members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) who were engaged to fill the vacuum created by the striking doctors.
Another doctor at the Asokoro District Hospital also declined to disclose his identity, but said: “Yes, the strike is off and we are just resuming back to work. I’m yet to attend to any patient but I will do that shortly. That’s all I can say for now.”
About the strike
On 2 August , resident doctors, who are doctors undergoing residency to become consultants, had commenced the industrial strike over what they described as poor treatment by both the federal and some state governments.
This category of doctors, who constitute a large percentage of doctors in Nigeria’s tertiary hospitals, had demanded, among others, payment of COVID-19 treatment allowances in the absence of death-in-service insurance, having lost over a dozen of its members to the pandemic, even as they also protested the shortage of manpower in public hospitals.
The strike coincided with a spike in COVID-19 cases in the country, leaving many worried that it could have serious consequences for the battle against the third wave of the pandemic.
Series of meetings between the leaders of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), NARD, and government representatives also failed to resolve the issues after the striking doctors insisted they could not trust the government.
Despite the National Industrial Court (NIC) ordering members of NARD to return to their duty posts, the doctors vowed to continue the strike until all demands are met.
The NMA, the Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria (MDCAN) and the Medical and Dental Doctors in Academics (MEDSABAM) are also threatening to commence strike if the government fails to resolve the pending issues.
The Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), which comprises other categories of health workers in the country, has also threatened to down tools should the government fail to heed its requests.
But early Monday morning, the union announced the suspension of the industrial action, while urging the government to fulfill its own part of the agreement that led to the suspension of the action.
The NARD president, Godiya Ishaya, told PREMIUM TIMES that the union would observe the government’s compliance to the deal and act appropriately when necessary.
Contributors to this report include Medinat Kanabe, Ebuka Onyeji, Nike Adebowale and Mariam Ileyemi.
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