Health professionals fiddle far too much with the health of the nation
After several days of strike that claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent Nigerians, health workers across the country, under the auspices of Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), at the weekend agreed to return to work. As part of the deal that led to the truce, a committee has been constituted to draw up modalities for the payment of consultancy and specialist allowance for healthcare professionals as well as review some other demands made by the health workers before they went on strike.
Coming only a few weeks after medical doctors under the auspices of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) ended their three-month strike, the JOHESU action was both ill-timed and unfortunate. However, now that common sense seems to have prevailed, we hope that both the union and the federal government would come to a binding agreement so we can put an end to incessant recourse to strikes that take heavy toll on human lives.
It is a fact that healthcare delivery is critical to the well-being of any society. Yet if health workers in Nigeria understand this, they have not demonstrated it given the manner in which they go on strike at the slightest excuse. More unfortunate still is the fact that the latest strike by JOHESU was driven essentially by their rivalry with medical doctors. The crux of the matter: non-promotion of its members from salary CONHESS 14-15 as directors having stayed for between four and15 years on the same salary level without promotion in most federal tertiary hospitals; immediate release of circular on adjustment of salary since January 2014 and payment of arrears.
JOHESU was also demanding the immediate release of the circular on extension of retirement age to be back-dated to February 2014 when the issue was presented to the federal government as well as full payment of all manner of arrears that have also to be backdated. There are other demands by JOHESU most of which border on their competition with medical doctors.
Instructively, none of the items on the JOHESU list calls for upgrading of the decayed and dilapidated health infrastructure across hospitals in the country. Neither is there a mention of the need to improve healthcare delivery in Nigeria. It is all about the welfare of JOHESU members and their rivalry with medical doctors. That, however, is no surprise because most of the times, the reasons why workers go on strike in our country are purely personal.
We believe that as much as JOHESU has the right to demand for improved welfare packages for its members, it is also incumbent on health practitioners to consider the plight of patients across the hospitals before they embark on their usual muscle-flexing. There should be other mechanisms for addressing grievances without turning our hospitals to death chambers. If the interest of Nigerians is topmost in JOHESU agenda, the best way to demonstrate it is not through incessant strikes. But the union alone should not take the blame.
There is a school of thought that government, at practically all levels in Nigeria, usually pay little or no attention to workers in critical sectors like education and health because most of the officials do not patronise local institutions. However, since at the root of the problem is the seeming insistence by JOHESU that its members be accorded the same privileges as NMA members, the federal government should apply global best practices on the issue. It is not in the interest of our country that the NMA and JOHESU would be alternating strikes which often lead to the death of ordinary Nigerians who patronise public health facilities. However, now that there is some sort of truce, we hope that all the parties will work to restore sanity to the sector.