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Lagos Doctors’ Strike:Counting the cost

By Uduma Kalu
At long last, Lagos doctors have called off their three and half months’old strike. And gradually life is picking up at the Lagos hospitals.

The patients, the hospital managements, even the doctors are happy to return to work. At the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, a visit showed that between Monday and Tuesday this week, 40 patients were admitted.

At the emergency service unit of the hospital, there was a beehive of actvities as relatives and patients filled up the seats waiting for doctors. Some of the patients, especially the children, looked lean and emanciated.

Anxious relations and friends, with sad faces were busy trying to see what they could to have their problems solved. A man, Charles,  in his early forties, leant on the wall of the unit completating. He had rushed his brother from a private hospital to the teaching hospital.

Becaus of the strike, he had taken him to a private hospital but there had been no change in his health status.

Emergency ward of LASUTH during the strike.

His family had been waiting for the strike to be over. Immediately, Charles heard about the end of strike, he rushed his brother to the hospital, and as he told Saturday Vanguard, his brother was responding to treatment.

The problem with the private hospital, he said,was lack of experts in different fields as one doctor could handle all of kinds of ailment. Charles was lucky. A man Jide, had rushed his pregnant wife at 2 am to a general hospital in his neighbourhood at Agbado, only to be told that there was a strike. His wife was bleeding and needed urgent operation to bring out the baby.

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He rushed to nearby private hospital was asked to deposit about N50, 000 out of the N140, 000 he was charged. Jide did not have such amount of money. He was a factory worker. He rushed to his house and woke up his neighbours. It was what they contributed for him that they gave him to pay at the hospital before the operation took place. His baby nearly nearly died before the operation commenced.

Another man lost his son to the strike. He had taken the kid to the a private hospital as  the doctors at the general hospital he used were on strike.  The private hospital could not diagnose correctly what was was wrong with the boy till his death.

There were those that came from outside Lagos also, not knowing that the strike was on. There was the story of an Ilorin based woman who came with a sick child. She met an empty hospital. She had thought that the Lagos hospital, being a free to children, her child would be treated there. But she saw the place empty. She was stranded. It was the cleasners there that contributed to her return to Ilorin.

When Saturday Visited the hospital last Tuesday, the premises looked empty. Only the guards, and  a few personnel were seen. The pharmacy was empty. The cleaners were doing their jobs. But there were cobwebs and dusts on the table and desks nurses used to attend to patients because of months of disuse. The hospital looked like an abandoned island.

Cars in skeletal numbers drove lazily about. The holdings where patients waited for medical attentions were empty. Only a lady who was answering her phone and a man lying on a bench were there. But this used to be over filled as the notice on the wall there indicated, asking those not patients to make space for patients.

There was a look of sadness everywhere there. Far off, where those in orthopedic patients stayed, cloths flew on the line, with nobody in sight. All the offices were locked,as if it was a weekend or public holidays. The children’s ward, which used to be like an anthill, was empty, all consulting rooms were locked. The diagnositic centre, was locked.

A patient seen at the holding said that those that suffered most were the poor. He patronised the hospital because certain facilities there are free. Vaccination there is free. Some drugs and injections are also free. Students tests are free. The private hospitals are expensive, he said.

Investigation showed that over 27 people died at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Lagos, during the recent strike embared by the Lagos doctors. The hospital’s patients on admission had  staged a protest at the Government House, Alausa, Ikeja. The patients were those suffering from sickle cell anaemia; patients with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV); typhoid patients. They carried  placards, urging the governors to listen to the doctors.

Their leader,  Mr. Adeoye Modechai, said he saw at least 25 dead people at the emergency ward carried to the morgue in five ambulances, just as a woman and her baby died for lack of medical attention. The nurses, he said refused to attend to patients since there was no doctor to sign their prescriptions.

Some like Mrs. Olawale Yinka, a cancer patient, said she was paid about N365,000 for her injections, and  that she had taken three and that in the last 15 days, she has not been able to take the remaining two because of the strike.

As a result of the strike, many patients rushed to private hosopitals and the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi_Araba, overstretching the facilities as patients received drips, fluid infusion, along the corridors because of the spill over.   Buit today, the strory is different. There is activity going on everywhere.

It was also gathered that other health workers may soon start their own strike if their demand to the government is not attended to.Their teaching hospital benefits have not been paid since September last year.

The Lagos government had in the peak of the strike employed 115 health workers, saying they were to work in the hospitals. Policemen, Saturday Vanguard was told, were drafted to the public hospitals to guard the place against doctors who might want to disturb the new doctors.

The gynecology machines (G and O) were moved to Isolo and Ijaye general hospitals. But the doctors at hand said it would be difficult for rookies to do the job of professors at the teaching hospitals.

As the strike lasted, every activities within the hospitals also halted. Even the taxi drivers lost their business as only few passengers patronised them. In fact, some of them had to change their routes. For business was poor. A pharmacist there had said that even credit card sellers, food retailers and other artisans were losers too. But today, all that is history, even though all wait with bated breath, hoping that the two parties would work out their agreement positively.

Lagos State medical doctors, last Sunday, Novemebr 23,  suspended, their 14_week_old strike and gave the state government a 72_hour ultimatum to pay their withheld salaries. The doctors met at an emergency congress of the Medical Guild, an umbrella association for medical doctors on the payroll of the Lagos State government, presided by the chairman, Aboyade Williams.

Williams said the association may call another congress yesterday, Friday, November 26, or in February 2011, saying, “If within 72 hours, the withheld salaries are not paid, the congress may have to reconvene on Friday”. The doctors began the thestrike on August 9.

The strike was suspended on an understanding between the doctors and the state government. By January 2011, the government will implement a new salary package. The chairman read out a letter, addressed to the association on November 19, by the state’s Head of Service, Adesegun Ogunlewe, which contained several promises for all the demands of the association.

It said, “With effect from January 2011, a mutually agreeable wage review, which will not put Lagos doctors on a disadvantage compared to their colleagues in other states, will be implemented.”

It also promised a “positive review” of the case of Ibrahim Olaifa, the association’s past chairman, who was sacked for addressing journalists as against government’s order, which forbids any civil servant from speaking to journalists; a “positive review” of withheld September and October salaries and other arrears; the remittance of the association’s dues; and the promise that “no officer will be victimised on account of participation or role played during the strike.”


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