THEWILL EDITORIAL: Saving Nigeria’s Healthcare System From Total Collapse

SAN FRANCISCO, September 09, (THEWILL) – The Nigerian healthcare system clearly needs an intervention, and, urgently too. Years of unfulfilled promises by successive governments and apparent lack of empathy on the part of those in authority to do the needful has left the nation’s healthcare facilities in the present sorry state they have found themselves in.

Most unfortunately, at a time most Nigerians thought that one or two lessons must have been learnt from the COVID-19 experience, we seem to have gone back to business as usual.

Sadly, the Nigerian political class who were badly hit by the fatalities of the COVID-19 outbreak seem to have gone back to sleep. At least, the airspace has been opened and they can easily jet out for medical tourism while the vulnerable Nigerians are left on their own.

It is very disheartening that most of the promises made to the health workers who were in the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 at the various isolation centres across the country have not been fulfilled even as the hazards allowances and others emoluments are yet to be paid.

Now, the National Association of Resident Doctors has called out its members across the country on a nationwide strike. The resident doctors are those who have graduated from medical schools and are training as specialist consultants as they work mostly in the emergency wards in government hospitals across the country.

They had given an initial 21-day notice and a further three-day warning strike before they finally kicked.

As if that was not enough, the junior health workers under the aegis of Joint Health Sector Unions and Assembly of Health Care Professionals, JOHESU, have also served a notice to begin another strike by September 13 at the expiration of a 15-day ultimatum to the Federal Government.

They have called on the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, SAN, to take over the negotiations between them and the government from the substantive Minister, Senator Chris Ngige, alleging that Ngige, a medical doctor, was on the side of the Nigerian Medical Association in the labour dispute.

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With resident doctors already on strike, federal hospitals throughout the country have almost been grounded with medical and healthcare being paralysed. Only skeletal services are being rendered in just a few federal hospitals across the country. Yet, the demands of these doctors are not even out of this world.

Basically, they are calling for group life insurance and death-in-service benefits for all health workers as well as payment of the medical residency training funding to all members as approved in the revised 2020 budget.

These are basic benefits that should not have led to any misunderstanding in a sane society which values the role of healthcare providers. The reverse, however, is the case here where the best the government could do is to ignore all the warnings only to come back and be barking a go-back-to-work order.

For JOHESU, according to its National Chairman, Comrade Bio Joy Josiah, there is no going back on the warning strike unless government acts fast. He maintained that the commitment of the union to resolve issues through dialogue had been taken for granted.

It is interesting to note that JOHESU was not even selfish in its demand as the junior health workers were even concerned about the growing hardship in the country coupled with the apparent insensitivity of the authorities in some cases.

JOHESU accused the Federal Government of nonchalance and lackadaisical attitude to the plight of its members despite what it described as the benevolence and long notice given on the issues in contention.

Maintaining that the next strike was going to be a total showdown, JOHESU warned that it would even mobilise its members in the states and local government health services to join the industrial action if nothing was done by midnight on Sunday, September 13.

In a statement issued at the commencement of a 15-day ultimatum, JOHESU said; “We note with sadness that our long-suffering is not appreciated because the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment (FMoL&E) continues to give the impression that our members do not have the capacity to endure hunger as they are vulnerable and poor, a perception that will be put to test in the weeks ahead if the government does not heed our call.”

While we are not in support of the total grounding of the healthcare system because of incessant and avoidable strike actions, we find it unbelievable that government would not take the interests of these doctors as well as those of the junior health workers serious given their sacrifice during the COVID-19 outbreak and the eventual lockdown.

It is a big disappointment that a government which claimed to have spent a whopping N30.5 billion within just four months on “COVID-19 bazaar” would find it difficult to accede to the demands of the medical doctors, saying it has met six out of their eight demands.

Despite all the resources at its disposal to fight the pandemic, the Federal Government cannot still point to a well-equipped medical facility that can stand the test of time built during the crisis.

THEWILL condemns a situation where the lives of ordinary Nigerians do not matter to those in government. A sincere and responsive government would not just sit by and watch the nation’s healthcare system go into a comma as we have now, more so, the threat of the September 13 strike by JOHESU.

The suffering many Nigerians who really need urgent healthcare services are being made to go through because of the ongoing strike by the resident doctors can only be imagined. This would even be compounded if JOHESU joins the strike as being threatened.

More important is also the fact that the government seems to be living in the illusion of a warped feeling of success in the fight against COVID-19 thus thinking it could therefore go to sleep. The failure to fulfill the promises to the healthcare workers in the frontline of the COVID-19 fight might backfire should there be a resurgence of the outbreak.

The Federal Government should know that it is yet not over until it is over as we advise that Nigeria should learn from the recent experience in India.

Within just 24hours, the COVID-19 cases in the country shot to new highs, with over 75,000 new infections and 1,300 deaths, thus making India the country with the second worst cases in the world to the surprise and shock of many.