The country’s public health sector has been in a comatose state in the past few weeks on account of the strike embarked upon by members of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) in their resolute bid to be on a par with medical doctors. JOHESU has tabled a 15-point demand to the Federal Government seeking significant improvements in terms of the conditions of service.
Sadly, though, quite a number of avoidable deaths have been recorded during this tragic and unfortunate industrial crisis. Many patients have been discharged prematurely, probably to go home and die, thus sabotaging the statutory duty of the government to protect lives. No industrial union with a direct impact on the nation’s health should attempt to hold the country to ransom in order to actualise its demands. A cursory look at the demands of JOHESU, and the reaction of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) will reveal that both sides are overstating their respective advocacies. It has therefore become apposite to ask how other countries run their hospitals without the different professionals in the crucial sector ruining health delivery, as it is consistently being done here in Nigeria.
For instance, one of JOHESU’s demands is increasing the retirement age of health workers to 65, like the government did in the education sector. It has also requested to enjoy the same internship arrangements as medical doctors. These two demands are questionable. The union has again been asking for the sack of the Health Minister, Professor Isaac Adewole, who it believes is not inclined to sympathise with its cause, as a medical doctor. Meanwhile, Nigerians will continue to die in their droves or get prematurely discharged from health institutions for as long as a reasonable resolution to this impasse remains elusive.
Although the Minister of Health seems hopeful of a resolution to the crisis, we think that the loss of lives following the crisis should suggest the need for a lasting solution to the frequent needless rivalry between doctors and other workers in the health sector. The union needs to review its 15-point demand realistically, and cut down on its requests of linear comparison with the doctors. The federal establishment is not a place for unwholesome competition amongst professionals and specific allowances can definitely not be universalised in order to enforce industrial harmony.
However, it is fair to acknowledge that some of JOHESU’s demands are quite in order, and that the arrogance of members of the NMA has worsened the current crisis. The doctors must realise that they are not a super breed. They must stop their practice of looking down on other professionals in the health sector, a practice traceable to the universities where professors of medicine often allegedly give the impression that professors of nursing or pharmacy are inferior to them as academics. Medical doctors, as leaders in the health sector, should understand that they cannot do everything and that they need the cooperation of other workers more than the unsavoury rivalry that is frustrating the achievement of a vibrant public health sector and causing a heavy brain drain in the sector. The needless and avoidable deaths must stop.
Whatever may be the requests of the workers in the health sector, any strike that may occasion the massive deaths of citizens is not desirable. It calls the humanity and commitment of the workers to question irrespective of who they may be: doctors, laboratory technicians, nurses or whoever. It is crucial to settle the scores in the health sector in the direction of putting a full stop to the regular industrial crises that decimate human lives. Such crises are obsolete, obnoxious and unacceptable to modernity. The government must devise a new method of organising health institutions in such a way that they can function vibrantly, taking a cue from the civilised climes.