The National Association of Residents Doctors (NARD) has explained why it embarked on an ‘indefinite strike action’ while Nigeria is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic which has infected more than 16, 000 infected and killed over 400 since it arrived in the West African nation in late February.
The NARD president, Aliyu Sokombo, said doctors downed tools over unpaid salaries, non-payment of hazard allowance, and a dearth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in hospitals among several other reasons. He said the association has explored several other options before arriving at their decision.
“While we are battling with inadequate PPE, many states are owing doctors for months even in this COVID-19 period. In Imo State, for instance, no resident doctor has received a salary in four months since the new government assumed office” Mr Sokombo said in a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday.
“We can no longer continue like this. We felt we needed to sit back and review this situation of offering health service under such an unsafe condition.”
The resident doctors announced that they have commenced a nationwide “indefinite strike” on Monday morning in a communique issued at the end of its ‘virtual extraordinary National Executive Council Meeting’.
Following the announcement, health minister, Osagie Ehanire, said the doctors’ decision may lead to loss of lives.
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 of Health. NARD was also in attendance. At that meeting, they had not yet declared their position on the strike…
“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.
But during the phone conversation with this newspaper, the NARD president said doctors treating people with COVID-19 are exempted from the strike.
“We have exempted doctors working in isolation and treatment centres just to prove we are not trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to make our demands,” the doctor said.
The NARD president said their demands date back to 2017. “We have tried to use dialogue, ultimatums and all other possible means but the government has not demonstrated sufficient commitment in solving the challenges.
“They have not made PPE available in various institutions across the country, we don’t have life insurance and our residency program has remained unfunded and worst still many governors are not paying salaries.
“Some doctors have not received a kobo since January and they are still working and treating people. How do you continue like that?”
Resident doctors are certified doctors undergoing residency to become consultants. They make up a large bulk of doctors in Nigeria’s tertiary hospitals.
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 this 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 front liners in the fight against COVID-19.
Hazard Allowance, Life Insurance
The Nigerian government had promised a special COVID-19 hazard and inducement allowance of 50 per cent of Consolidated Basic Salary to all health workers in Nigerian Teaching Hospitals, Federal Medical Centres (FMCs), and designated COVID-19 centres.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, said about 5,000 frontline health workers have been given life insurance by the Nigerian insurance industry, NHIS.
But Mr Sokombo said no ‘dime’ of hazard allowance has been paid to any doctor. “I don’t think they have intentions of paying us.”
The NARD president said no life insurance has been issued to any resident doctor, noting that no less than 10 doctors have died of COVID19. “I have lost count of those infected by the virus.”
As of June 2, about 812 health workers had tested positive for COVID-19 in Nigeria.
“We left the treatment for COVID19 uninterrupted to make the government see reasons with us and find a lasting solution to our demands in the shortest possible time,” Mr Sokombo noted.
The Minister of State for Health, Olurunnimbe Mamora, disclosed this at the daily Presidential Task Force briefing on COVID-19 on Monday. He said the Federal Government agreed to shelve the payment of the current N5,000 hazard allowance, which had been in existence since 1991.
Emmanuel Ugboaja, the general secretary of the Nigerian Ministry of Labour, did not respond Tuesday to Calls and text messages seeking the government’s response to the situation.
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