Medical doctors and other health workers in hospitals owned by federal and state governments have embarked on strike 10 consecutive times in the past six years, LEADERSHIP Friday checks have revealed.
The persistent industrial dispute is worsening the already deteriorated health care services in the country, thereby encouraging medical tourism and brain drain.
Findings by this paper showed that the Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), an affiliate of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), embarked on strike six times between 2016 and 2021.
In 2016, the association under the leadership of the then national president, Dr Muhammad Askira, had embarked on strike to press home the demands of its members, including their inclusion in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System.
Again in 2017, NARD under the leadership of Dr John Onyebueze embarked on another strike in September over the government’s failure to meet their demands, including non-payment of skipping to its members.
In 2020, NARD commenced another strike in June over disagreement between the association under the leadership of Dr Aliyu Sokomba and the federal government.
On September 7, 2020, the association embarked on a nationwide strike over the lingering issue of non-implementation of agreements reached with the government.
They had demanded a risk allowance for those working on the frontline to battle the coronavirus, even as doctors in public hospitals were also not happy about dismissals and reduction of their wages.
In January this year, NARD under the leadership of Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi gave the federal government till March 31 to meet its demands. The resident doctors made real their threat by embarking on a nationwide strike on April 1.
The strike was suspended after 10 days after the association reached an agreement with the federal government in a Memorandum of Actions (MOA) signed at the instance of the minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige.
Due to what the doctors describe as insincerity on the part of the government, it commenced another strike, which is ongoing, on August 2, 2021.
Aside NARD, some NMA state chapters had also embarked on strike in 2020 but were later asked to return to work by the NMA national body during the outbreak of COVID-19.
Also, JOHESU which is the umbrella body of five health sector unions embarked on strike in June 2016, September 2017, 2018 and 2020.
The five health sector unions under JOHESU are the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAI), Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) and Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria.
While a lot of industrial issues remain unresolved in the sector, LEADERSHIP Friday learnt that medical experts have continued to leave the country for greener pastures overseas.
According to the Federal Ministry of Health, there are 74,543 registered medical doctors with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN).
Available statistics however revealed that only about 35,000 doctors are practicing in the county.
This existing problem of inadequate physicians to care for the country’s rapidly growing population is further fueled by the trend of emigration among healthcare professionals.
The number of doctors leaving the country increased from 656 in 2014 to 1551 in 2018.
The Federal Ministry of Health also said that the statistics of registered medical doctors in the country equates to 36.3 medical doctors to 100,000 population (doctor to population ratio of 1/2,753).
This is against the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) recommendation of one doctor to 600 population (1:600).
According to a survey conducted by the Nigerian Polling organisation (NOIPolls) in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch in 2017, eight out of every 10 medical doctors in Nigeria (88 per cent) are currently seeking job opportunities abroad, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States and recently Saudi Arabia.
LEADERSHIP Friday also learnt that as of 2017, 30 per cent of Nigerian doctors who registered to write foreign medical exams were going for PLAB (UK), 30 per cent for USMLE (United States), 15 per cent for MCCE (Canada), 15 per cent for AMC (Australia) and 10 per cent for DHA (Dubai) amongst others.
Also, the Saudi Arabia Health ministry recently organised a recruitment exercise for medial consultants and specialists through an organisation in the FCT and over 200 doctors from within and aside the FCT turned out for the exercise.
Meanwhile, experts have blamed increasing brain drain in the sector on poor remuneration, welfare, poor working environment and population explosion.
A reproductive health expert, Dr Ejile Orji, said, “Once you train somebody, that person has become a global citizen irrespective of who trained him or her, and there is the chance that the person would go to where he or she would be best appreciated.
“Some of us are still in the county because of the love that we have for the country”.
Dr Orji noted that even though it is a global trend, Nigeria has its own local problem, adding that doctors are perpetually on strike and it seems as if there is no end to the story.
He however stressed that the main philosophical problem that the country has is its population, saying the government can only engage doctors based on its financial capacity.
“We need to check the level of our population; otherwise the resources we have will not be enough and the government will find it difficult to meet the needs of the people.”
Also, a medical doctor in Abuja, Dr Ifeanyin Okpara, said the number of doctors practicing in the country presently have reduced drastically as a result of the exodus of doctors to foreign countries.
He said over 80 per cent of his doctor friends have left the county to the UK and other countries, even as he said the testimonies of the doctors are encouraging others to do same.
“The reason I am still in Nigeria is because I don’t want to leave my family behind. If not, I would have long travelled abroad because I have had several opportunities. Also, those of my friends that are working abroad are doing very well financially. So, it’s something that everybody wishes for,” he said.
FG To Make COVID-19 Vaccination Compulsory For Civil Servants
Meanwhile, the federal government is set to unveil its decision on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for every employee in its service.
The secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, disclosed this yesterday in Abuja during the meeting of the Health Commissioners Forum with federal ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and health partners.
He said the federal government will institute mandatory vaccination once it ensures that vaccines are available for everyone.
“Let me state however, that the federal government shall, very shortly, unveil its decision on mandatory vaccination for every employee in its service,” he said.
The SGF said the government was planning mandatory vaccination for federal civil servants because of the role they perform, not just within the country, but also on behalf of the federal government with other countries, some of whom have started insisting on compulsory COVID-19 vaccination.
Speaking further, Mustapha called on members of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to call off their strike, saying any form of strike is unnecessary in the midst of a pandemic
Also speaking at the event, the minister of state for health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, said there was a need for increased funding for health, adding that the basic underlying factors around issues and challenges in the sector is funding.
On the NARD strike, the minister said, “As a medical practitioner myself, I am not saying that some of the issues raised are not genuine and legitimate, but we are saying that at this point in time, this is a period of pandemic. This is a period where almost the whole world is on its knees. Therefore, it is not a time to start straining the health system. Even in a war situation you still come back to a round table.