Access to effective and functional health services is considered a fundamental right of citizens of every country. Indeed, Nigeria’s 1999 constitution (as amended) states in chapter 2 that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government…”
Note that top legal minds confirm that “shall” in constitutional language implies “must”, there is no option, its obedience is not optional. It has to be done. It therefore means that the welfare of Nigerians is a command by the constitution. When you speak of welfare, health should be top of that list. People can endure living without electricity; good roads; good telecommunication services and all other social services that other nations take for granted, but they cannot and should not live without access to efficient, effective and affordable medical care.
Unfortunately, living without good medicals is becoming the reality of most Nigerians. Successive governments have failed to address the healthcare crisis in the country. The result is poor health infrastructure; poorly paid health personnel who are constantly in search of greener pastures abroad, yet government officials seem to care little about the state of health services available to Nigerians. This may be because the high and mighty in government can fly abroad to access quality healthcare services paid for by taxpayers.
Doctors abroad are very well paid, so they concentrate on rendering excellent services to their citizens as well as to foreign health tourists.
Meanwhile, doctors that serve the generality of the citizenry, the doctors that carry out operations with torchlights in Nigeria are expected to be satisfied with peanuts. There is no modern country that pays its politicians higher salaries than it pays its doctors, this is because, reasonable countries attach great importance to healthcare.
To start with, we don’t even have sufficient doctors in the country. According to health statistics, with a population of about 200 million, the ratio of doctor per patient remains 1:5, 000 as against the World Health Organisation’s
recommendation of 1:600. This glaring deficiency poses severe risk on the health of the populace!
Little wonder, health indicators continue to decline. As a result of the poor remuneration in the health sector, the few doctors we have in the country are being headhunted by Middle Eastern countries, Europe and United States; yet our leaders seem unworried, since they themselves depend on foreign health services.
With poor health infrastructure, and demoralized health personnel, strike has become recurrent. The latest one is the strike by National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD). Announcing the strike NARD national president, Dr Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa said, “We are embarking on a total and
indefinite strike on August 2, 2021. You can recall we had a memorandum of action on March 31, 2021, and had an addendum to it on April 9, and since then, we still have had irregularities in the payment of salaries to the house officers.
“We had issues with them being non-regular payment and as part of the memorandum of action, it was said that they should be captured back into the IPPS platform.”
Uyilawa added, “You are aware that we lost 19 members to COVID-19 and death in service. Insurance was supposed to be paid to their next of kin. The last time we met the Minister of Labour and Minister of Health, we were told that our members are part of those to be given the insurance benefit, but we found out that their names are not even there.”
He cited the inability of the federal government to meet the demands of the doctors as part of the reasons for the decision. The doctors had embarked on industrial action in April, leaving many patients unattended across various government-owned hospitals. They later suspended it after 10 days!
Some of the issues raised by the medical practitioners at the time included the immediate payment of all salaries owed to all house officers. They also sought an upward review of the hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers as well as payment of the outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance, especially in state-owned tertiary institutions.
The doctors called for the abolishment of the exorbitant bench fees being paid by their members on outside postings in all training institutions across the country, among others.
Since the NARD embarked on the latest strike action there has been a lot of rigmarole! Even the federal government’s application of the judicial process has had no success in resolving the impasse. The situation is getting even direr as the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has issued 21-day strike
notice over the failure of government to meet the demands of the striking resident doctors.
The NMA, in a statement on Saturday after its National Executive Council meeting in Benin, Edo State, said its affiliates, including the Medical and Dental Consultants of Nigeria, the Medical and Dental Doctors in Academics and the National Association of Resident Doctors, had resolved to commence a nationwide strike after the ultimatum.
In its statement on Saturday, the umbrella body of medical doctors noted that the federal government had not met the demands of resident doctors, who began a strike on August 2. Before embarking on the strike, NARD had accused the government of failing to enrol its members on the
Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System and not paying some of its members on residency training. Efforts by the NMA to resolve the disagreements between NARD and the government have so far failed. Also, both sides disagreed on the ruling of the industrial court, which ordered the doctors to call off the strike. At its meeting in Benin, the NMA expressed anger about the no-work-no-pay order of the government against the resident doctors.
The country cannot afford the escalation of NARD strike to include the NMA and its affiliates. This matter must be resolved fast especially at a time when the third wave of COVID-19 is spreading alarmingly across the country! A responsible government should not allow the matter to linger or escalate. This should be time when everything should be done to ensure that the medical sector is well remunerated and primed to tackle the COVID-19 third wave headlong. A worker deserve his wage, so government should find the money to meet the demands of the doctors, the same way it meets the financial demands of National Assembly and other political office holders.
However, the doctors should also be more understanding in case government could not meet all their demands. They should be aware that Nigeria is in a dire economic situation, with burgeoning local and foreign debts and skyrocketing budget deficit. Let the two sides be reasonable to resolve this impasse fast because many lives have been lost and many more citizens likely to die if the strike lingers much longer.