Doctors Embark On Nationwide Strike Over #COVID19 Concerns

The strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), which began on Monday is putting  pressure on private hospitals and families in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where the local branch of the union commenced action five days earlier.

Investigations by HumAngle showed that while private hospitals continue to receive more patients from public facilities, individuals and families with persons requiring medical attention are agitated.

Aisha Kashim said her sister-in-law which was very close to her expected delivery date was under heavy stress over the strike.

“She is quite distraught because of how worried she is knowing doctors might not be around when she’s going to give birth. For a heavily pregnant woman, her being this stressed isn’t good,” Kashim explained.

They are also worried about the possibility of having to undergo a caesarean section in a  private hospital, where the bills would be high, she said.

“If it comes to that, we might have to start thinking of how to raise the money to pay if such a circumstance arises,” Kashim added.

Muhammad Bello was ill and visited an Abuja hospital on Friday for treatment but was referred to a private hospital due to the strike.

“I decided to go to the hospital when I realised that I was feeling very sick so that I could know exactly what was actually wrong with me, only to be told that doctors were on strike. I was referred to National Hospital,” he said.

Bello wasn’t tested to confirm his condition but after the referral and knowing how expensive it was to pay for consultation in private hospitals he went to a pharmacy instead.

“I described my symptoms to the lady at the pharmacy and she told me it was malaria and gave the appropriate drugs. I’m still feeling under the weather but I’m hopeful what she prescribed will work,” he added.

A mother, Saratu Danjuma, expressed anxiety over the health of her daughter, on admission at Maitama District Hospital, Abuja, but still had hope she would get attention.

“They’re still attending to my daughter and we’ve been here before the strike started.

“The medical attention we’ve been getting hasn’t changed either. There are still some doctors around attending to the patients,” Danjuma said.

HumAngle learnt that some people had made arrangements for doctors to be attending to them at home as an alternative.

“A disgruntled man, Habib Akinbiyi, said that his mother had been struggling with a high fever and regular loss of consciousness.

“I instead decided to ask for favour from my friend who is a doctor. He has been kind enough to be coming to attend to her at my home and she is now doing fairly well,” he said.

The strike is over the Federal Government’s failure to pay the COVID-19 hazard and inducement allowance to the doctors.

Other medical unions, including the Joint Health Sector Unions and the Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations have given notices of embarking on strikes for similar reasons.

Resident doctors represent around 40 per cent of doctors across the country which is struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and man the isolation and treatment centres.

The doctors embarked on strike on March 17 over the payment of hazard allowance and related issues.

Previously, doctors received N5,000 as hazard allowance. However, the government released N4.5 billion for payment of the hazard and inducement allowances for the month of April and May to them.

At the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, the government  promised to increase the hazard and inducement allowance by 50 per cent of consolidated basic salary  for doctors and staff in teaching hospitals, Federal Medical Centres and isolation centres, which led to the suspension of the strike on June 21.

Apart from the issue allowances, doctors in Cross River State took to the streets of Calabar to protest the kidnapping of one of their colleagues, Dr Vivian Otu, paediatrician, who was abducted on August 28.

Otu was later released last Thursday after spending five days in captivity.

The doctors marched to the Governor’s Office and the state house of assembly in protest. They  said over 13 doctors had been kidnapped in the state over the past three years.

A house officer at Maitama District Hospital in Abuja who pleaded for anonymity, said  apart from the issues on ground, the lack of Personal Protective Equipment  contributed to the strike.

“Doctors can’t continue sacrificing their health and safety,” she said.

“We are very few currently working at the hospital. Because of the strike, we have been redirecting our patients to other private hospitals.

“Our wards are close to being empty. Majority of the patients still on admission are caesarean section patients. Once we have discharged them, the wards will be empty,” the doctor said.

“The main reason for this strike is for the government to appreciate our importance to providing health services,  most especially in critical times like this when doctors are already under a lot of strain, and pay all our due allowances and payment arrears,” the doctor added.

She described the strike an absolute last resort for doctors to take a stand for a lasting solution to their woes.

“We want to continue carrying out our vital duties under proper working conditions. Doctors have been treated unjustly, and you wonder why many Nigerian doctors choose to work abroad.

“Ultimately, we don’t want the public to end up paying the price for the government attitude, and hope all can be resolved in the shortest period possible,” the doctor added.

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Hafsah Abubakar Matazu

Hafsah Abubakar Matazu is the current Programme Director at HumAngle. She holds a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) in Mass Communication from Baze University Abuja. Prior to joining HumAngle, she worked for Abuja-based Daily Trust Newspapers as an investigative reporter. She leads the program team in planning and implementing grants as well as funded and non funded reporting projects. She tweets via @hafsahabubakar_

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