The practice of medicine and surgery from time immemoral is an important and sacred one because its core essence is the preservation of human life. That is why doctors are compelled to take the Hypocratic Oath. Yet in reality, given the way they down tools at the slightest excuse, causing untold misery and deaths to their hapless patients, Nigerian doctors cannot be said to have been adhering faithfully to this oath. Even the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) has had to express its worries about this unfortunate development. While government needs to do more in terms of its commitment to workers, resorting to incessant strikes clearly contradicts the most important duty of any medical doctor which is to save lives.
The recent strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the threat by the Nigerian Medication Association (NMA) to embark on another nationwide strike beginning from July 1 is thus unbecoming, to say the least. The sad part of it is that most of the demands by NMA and NARD are not centred on how to improve healthcare service delivery in the country contrary to public posturing. They are primarily concentrated on salary increment, allowances, and promotion for their members. The recent letter by the NMA to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation where they listed 23 demands that government must meet is indicative of what the whole brouhaha is all about. The letter is all about their personal welfare.
In the same token, NMA, to be specific, is often antagonistic to policies that are geared towards assisting other health workers who are not doctors. For instance, NMA is opposed to Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN) regulating importation of medical equipment. Thus, it is vehemently fighting the new circular by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) directing importers of medical and laboratory equipment to adhere to the policy. It is also opposed to other health workers having the title of a consultant. Doctors have also been fighting tooth and nail to take charge of medical and pathology laboratories as well, and in the process relegate laboratory scientists to the background. They are also pressing for the appointment of a Surgeon General amid resistance from other health workers.
No one is against the NARD or doctors fighting for their rights. Far from it. But it has become pertinent that the lives of citizens should also be considered sacred and that continuous cases of strike would contribute immensely in worsening citizens’ health. For that reason, another round of national strike by doctors will not be in the best interest of Nigerians. Neither will it portray the NMA in good light.
A more strategic way to resolve this logjam can be attained without bringing untold hardship to patients and other citizens that may need the services of doctors in the hospitals. Categorically, a new mechanism or dispute resolution platform should be explored. We fully support the aspirations of doctors in terms of their welfare, conducive working environment, training and recognition of their contribution as sacrosanct to an efficient healthcare system and a better society.
However, we are of the view that going on strike will not resolve the list of problems confronting Nigeria’s healthcare system at the moment. It will definitely lead to loss of innocent lives. The NMA and NARD should at least listen to the public outcry against doctors embarking on another strike. It will neither serve the interest of the masses nor the intentions of NMA. As previous cases have proven, parties would still return to the negotiating table. The anticipated strike, in all ramifications, is needless and unwarranted. We therefore plead with the NMA and other health workers to shelve their planned indefinite strike.