Amidst the imminent third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the recent outbreak of cholera in more than 13 states of the federation, Nigerian doctors have announced the commencement of a nationwide industrial action from Monday, August 2.
The doctors, members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), blamed the Nigerian government for the strike. They accused the government of failing to implement the Memorandum of Action (MOA) earlier endorsed by the two parties which necessitated the suspension of the NARD’s earlier strike action in April 2021.
The NARD president, Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, confirmed the development in a communique issued at the end of the association’s National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, which was held in Abia State on Saturday.
“The NEC unanimously resolved by vote to resume the total and indefinite strike action from 08.00hrs Monday, 2nd August, 2021,” the communique reads in part.
The doctors had earlier in June issued a strike notice to the federal government but the minister of labour and employment, Chris Ngige, insisted on the withdrawal of the notice describing it as “arm twisting.”
The body is an association of resident doctors, who are undergoing training to become consultants in various fields of medicine.
They are described as residents because by virtue of their training, they are expected to be available in the hospitals with their patients every day.
They make up the largest percentage of public medical practitioners in Nigeria and they are closer to the patients in terms of the management of cases.
They report to their consultants and trainers who access them regularly and grade their performances.
Reasons for strike
The doctors’ grievances are said to be related to the failure of the federal government to implement the contents of the Memorandum of Action (MOA) endorsed before the suspension of the association’s industrial action earlier in April, 2021.
The doctors had embarked on strike on April 1 after a meeting with a government delegation on March 31 ended in a deadlock.
The association later suspended the strike on April 10, following the signing of a new agreement with the government, concerning issues raised in a 13-point demand.
The doctors had demanded, amongst other things, the immediate payment of COVID-19 inducement allowance to some of their members in federal and state tertiary institutions.
They also demanded the review of hazard allowance for health workers due to the risk associated with their profession.
The association also decried the undue hardship its members on GIFMIS platform are facing due to the delays in payment of their salaries ranging from three to seven months.
But almost four months later, the doctors said the government has failed to meet their demands.
“NEC noted the suspension of the total indefinite strike action one hundred and thirteen (113) days ago due to Government promises as entailed in the Memorandum of Actions (MOA) signed at the instance of the Minister of Labour, Sen. Dr Chris Ngige.
“The NEC also noted the efforts of the Hon Speaker of the House of Representatives in ensuring that the Medical Residency Training Funds is captured in the supplementary budget.
“They however frowned at the delay by the Federal Government in disbursing the funds to our members,” the communique made available to PREMIUM TIMES indicates.
The communique also read in parts; “The NEC noted that despite Government promise to migrate her members from the GIFMIS to the IPPIS platform, they are still stuck on the GIFMIS platform which is laced with payment irregularities.
“The NEC noted with grievous concerns the circular from the Head of Service of the Federation removing House Officers from the scheme of service and the consequent implementation by the Lagos State Government.”
The association also claims that some house officers, who are fresh graduates from medical schools, are still owed between one to two months salaries, and that “the NEC noted that ‘bench fee’ for outside postings by Resident Doctors has been abolished, however some Chief Medical Directors have renamed the bench fee as training fee causing hardship for our members.”
“NEC noted that with regards to the non-payment of the National Minimum Wage Consequential Adjustment, the list of affected institutions and personnel strength had since been submitted to the Federal Ministry of Health as directed by the MOA signed with the Federal Government, yet nothing has been done,” the communique added.
The association also lamented the acute manpower shortage in most tertiary health institutions and the attendant burnout effects on its members.
It noted that this situation is made worse by the ongoing brain drain decimating the nation’s healthcare system.
Despite risks associated with their profession, there have been numerous complaints of poor remuneration and welfare of health workers in Nigeria.
The doctors had downed tools several times over these same issues.
Hazard pay, a wage supplement paid to workers who do dangerous jobs, has been the grouse of Nigerian health workers since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health workers, being the first respondents to patients, have continued to be at risk of exposure to infections including the COVID-19 virus.
Many health workers have already lost their lives to the infection, according to the chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), FCT, chapter Enema Amodu.
The Nigerian government had in April 2020 promised a special COVID-19 hazard and inducement allowance of 50 per cent of Consolidated Basic Salary to health workers in Nigerian teaching hospitals, federal medical centres (FMCs), and designated COVID-19 centres for the first three months.
“The NEC observed with serious concerns that despite several meetings with the presidential committee on salaries and other top government stakeholders on the review of hazard allowance for health workers, the hazard allowance still remains a paltry sum of five thousand naira,” the association said.
It also said that although efforts have been made about the payment of death in service insurance benefit to the next of kin of its members, more can still be done.
Strike to compound Nigeria’s woes
If it eventually kicks off as planned, the strike action will further compound the woes bedevilling the nation’s healthcare sector.
The doctor’s strike is coming at a time Africa’s most populous nation is preparing for a possible third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nigeria has continued to witness a consistent increase in the number of cases and deaths from the disease, including the dangerous “Delta variant” which is already present in many parts of the country.
Reports of cholera outbreaks in various states including Bauchi, Enugu, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Plateau, Benue, Bayelsa, Delta, among others, have already added to the pressure on the nation’s health facilities.