By Sola Ogundipe & Chioma Oinna
It is a season of anomie for the Nigerian health sector. Perpetually steeped in crisis, things have fallen apart irrevocably in the public domain where the centre no longer holds for healthcare delivery.
Like a bad coin, strike, the six-letter word that sends cold shivers down the spine of the hapless Nigerian, has reared its ugly head yet again as doctors under the aegis of the Nigerian Medical Association, umbrella body for medical practice in the country, are on the rampage.
Their grouse is as old as the hills. It’s the same age-long inter-professional rivalry and dissent over issues of self-preservation and perpetuation.
The ensuing crisis that has taken over the fortunes of healthcare delivery in recent times appears set to linger for much longer as parties involved have stoutly refused to shift ground. In the past week, services in all hospitals across the country have been at ground zero. Scores of sick people have been prematurely sent home. While many may have developed avoidable complications, unknown number of have been lost. But no one seems to care. There are no answers, only nagging questions.
For five consecutive days, people were left in the dark. Even the Federal Ministry of Health kept sealed lips, not deeming it fit to explain to millions of worried Nigerians why they are being denied access to healthcare services in public hospitals managed with tax payers’ money.
If government kept mute, the health care professionals have been anything but quiet. They have set about town in a cacophony of words, amplifying the apparent ego trip in the do-or-die attempt to gain
ownership of the health sector..
The scenario is the result of inter-professional rivalry. At one end are medical doctors, at the other end, pharmacists, nurses, laboratory scientists, etc., It has been open war of words.
NMA justifies action Precisely, on the 1st of July, 2014, the NMA called an indefinite strike over what they described as failure of the Federal Government to meet their 24 – point demands.
In press statement heralding the strike, NMA President, Dr.Kayode Obembe, noted: “The NMA is taking this painful route because our silence and gentle approach to these contending issues have been taken for granted. We have to take this action in order to save the health care delivery system from anarchy that is palpably imminent.
The doctors are threatening fire and brimstone if government implements an agreement with other professional groups in the health sector. Obembe, who demanded immediate withdrawal of a circular by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, directing all importers of medical laboratory equipment to obtain a certificate of registration from the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria, MLSCN. Among their demands the NMA are insisting on sole headship of health institutions, full possession of the post of Deputy Chairman Medical Advisory Committee (DCMAC), opposition to appointment of Directors in the Hospitals, immediate adjustment of doctors’ salaries to maintain relativity, appointment of Surgeon General of the Federation, among others.
It is illegal and politically motivated – JOHESU
But the Joint Health Sector Unions, JOHESU, have cried foul. In swift reaction, National President, JOHESU, Comrade Felix Faniran, said the 5th of June, 2014 collective agreement between JOHESU and the Federal Government was sacrosanct and nothing would stop its implementation The Unions have begun court proceedings against the NMA and Federal Government over implementation of the agreement. Declaring the strike illegal and politically motivated, Faniran avowed that the NMA, not being a registered union, is not legally covered to go on strike.
“The NMA strike is illegal and tailored to aggravate the sufferings of the common people in the public. In this era of bomb blast and various victims being hospitalised, what justification and moral right does
NMA have to embark on strike? Why should NMA commence on this illegal strike when the services of her members are highly needed- where is their human feelings? We can deduce that this strike is politically motivated.”
Strike unnecessary – FG
Meanwhile, the Federal government said the ongoing strike is unnecessary. Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu wondered why the doctors have remained on strike after government signed a Memorandum of Understanding and have almost meet all their demands.
“It is expected that the NMA will call off the strike after its Emergency Delegates Meeting scheduled for next Monday, 7th July, 2014,.” He noted.
Expressing disapproval of the unnecessary strike action, Chukwu, a medical doctor himself, said government has made every effort to negotiate with the NMA and ensure the immediate resumption of services in government hospitals.
He said on receipt of the NMA strike notice, government held a meeting with the Association on 25th June, 2014 after which a Memorandum of Understanding which addressed all the 24 issues presented was signed.
“Despite reneging on the MoU, the government immediately invited the NMA to series of meetings on 1 st July, 2014 yet this could not dissuade the NMA from the strike they had embarked on. Another meeting that was planned for 2nd July, 2014 was aborted when the NMA officials failed to show up.”
The NMA honoured another 10-hour meeting on Thursday, 3rd July, 2014 under the auspices of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation at the end of which another MoU was signed. “As I speak to you, the government has met its own side of the MoU and it is expected that the members of the NMA would from today begin to respond and attend to all emergency cases in public hospitals in the spirit of this understanding.”