Not now! – The Nation

  • We can’t afford doctors’ strike today

Amidst ballooning cases of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, resident doctors across the country have hit the trenches. Barring any last minute development, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) are to begin an indefinite strike today, following the expiration of a two-week notice its members served the Federal Government.

Industrial temper in the health sector has hitherto been restive in some states, but this is on a country-wide scale.

NARD says it is pulling its members from work, not minding the COVID-19 emergency, owing to demands it tabled before government that have not been met.

The association, in a letter referenced NARD/SG/2019-2020/070620/246 and shared on its Twitter handle Monday, last week, demanded, among others, that governments at both the federal and state levels ensure access by all healthcare workers to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Other demands by the group include: (i) immediate reversal of allegedly unlawful disengagement of 26 resident doctors at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital and payment of all emoluments owed them in accordance with the Medical Residency Training Act; (ii) immediate implementation of the revised hazard allowance and payment of COVID-19 inducement allowance; and (iii) that the Federal Government should caution security operatives against harassment and assault of its members when in line of their duty. NARD had issued a 14-day ultimatum effective from May 30, for government to attend to these demands.

While there has been no direct response from government, labour and employment minister Chris Ngige last week Tuesday indicated government’s readiness to immediately pay health workers on the front line of the COVID-19 battle their allowances for April and May.

“We have fixed a timeline for ourselves that before the end of this week, health workers captured in that particular COVID-19 net, front line workers, should get all their hazard and inducement allowances for the month of April and May,” he said at a parley between representatives of the Federal Government and health professional associations.

According to him, the approval granted by President Muhammadu Buhari was in appreciation that health workers risk their lives on the front line in the fight against COVID-19.

The minister further said government had approved insurance coverage for health workers in line with a memorandum of understanding sealed  April 21 with professionals and unions in the health sector. Health minister of state Olorunnimbe Mamora, who was also at the meeting, said the ministry would ensure provision of PPE to various hospitals.

Considering the critical importance of the services of health workers, including resident doctors at all times, even more so now amidst the raging pandemic, the seeming lethargy of government over their welfare is a needless sore point.

It is curious that since COVID-19 made landfall in Nigeria last February, with all the alarm over its hazardous potentialities, government is only now getting round to approving insurance cover for health workers after more than 800 of them are reported infected by the virus – with some falling to the fatality case count.

Neither is there much to cheer in paying token allowances two months in arrears when the workers take their lives in hand daily to tackle the pandemic on behalf of us all.

There are reports of some states like Lagos being generous with rewarding COVID-19 health workers, but this should be the national norm and not exceptional to any state. Worse is the inadequacy of PPE for these workers, it’s like sending soldiers into a fiery war armed with bare hands.

Having said that, we strongly hold resident doctors to the humanistic commitment they signed up to, over and above welfare premiums.

Material and other self-centred motivations should never outweigh the altruistic Hippocratic Oath they swore to while opting into the vocation, and they need be conscious they are in a career line historically reckoned as selfless.

We implore the resident doctors to shelve the strike and without conditions. But government also must get cracking with addressing welfare necessities that would ensure their efficiency and safety.

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