BY SOLA OGUNDIPE
WITH just a few days before commencement of the 2011 general elections, and no apparent or immediate or sustainable end to the protracted public doctors’/health workers’ strike in several States of the Federation, there are fears that the present scenario may truncate the upcoming national electoral process.
In Lagos State to be precise, where the five-week-old strike, rather than abate, appears to be gathering momentum, expectations are rife that the dwindling fortunes of the State’s health sector are likely to impact negatively on the full participation of the electorate.
A random survey by Good Health Weekly revealed that these fears may not be out of place considering the fact that a sizeable number of persons duly registered and thus eligible to vote, are among those being denied access to affordable healthcare services, no thanks to the strike.
“The elections would be the last thing on the mind of any sick person who value his or her life or any of their relations at this point in time.” This was the notion of Toun Bello, a middle-aged woman who put to bed in the thick of the strike last month. Toun who is currently on admission in a private hospital, was reluctant to discuss the issue.
However, when pushed, she managed to utter these words: “Please don’t talk to me about elections, don’t even mention the topic. I had a very nasty experience and I’m just thankful I did not lose my life because of this strike.” Toun who was booked at Ikeja General Hospital, lamented she was rejected at the last minute even though she had gone into labour. “I was told the labour ward was shut, I was told to go and take care of myself elsewhere. That was what I did and it’s what I intend to keep doing.”
To say healthcare is a mess in most parts of the country would be understatement. For years, there have been serious shortcomings with the Nigerian public health system. The issues are legion. From staff shortages to poor infrastructure; inadequate drug supplies to poor staff attitude. But the most intractable has been the disagreement over remuneration and working conditions for medical staff. The result of this latest strike is a vicious cycle staff erosion further worsening the crisis. The doctor-patient ratio in Nigeria is another story. It is far short of the recommendation of the World Health Organisation.
But the crux of the matter is that the involved parties government and the striking doctors-while not oblivious of the impact of the strike, palpable public opinion is that these parties have roundly failed to take responsibility and acknowledge the problem. But concerned parties who, aware of the magnitude of the problem and imminent collapse of the public health system, have been crying foul.
They say it is divine intervention the public health system has not entirely collapsed. Doctors’ strike actions will continue to be harshly criticised. Doctors will persistently receive criticism for being materialistic, selfish, cold, callous and unethical.
The reason for this is simple. Strike is never the best option because it is never in public interest.