By Muyiwa Adetiba
JOHESU is an acronym for Joint Health Sectors Union. Ordinarily, this should mean that it speaks for all the health sectors in the country. That should have been good news to government or whoever has to negotiate with these sectors. But it has turned out to be bad news instead because JOHESU sees the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA)—a major sector—as a rival and wants parity at all costs, including deaths to hapless patients who find themselves in the cross-fire. Sectors that should speak with one voice have thus become a tower of Babel.
JOHESU is a leading voice in the discordant and disruptive notes coming from the health sectors. A name that purports to be an umbrella is actually a deceptive if not deceitful appellation. Did JOHESU derail from its purpose at some point or was it never meant to serve the interests of all health care workers?
JOHESU is in its third week of strike. The end is not in sight as doctors have threatened a strike of their own should some of the demands of JOHESU be acceded to. An impasse has therefore been created which will need impartial umpires to broker. The Health Minister is a medical doctor and a former executive of NMA. The Minister of State is a medical doctor.
The Labour Minister is a medical doctor. Will they broker peace against the interests of their profession and constituency especially if they can’t see any merit in that demand? Or will JOHESU come down from its high horse and stop its demand for parity? They might all be players in the health care delivery team but their job specifications and training are different. Even in a football field where functions and training are similar, players don’t demand parity and members of the coaching crew, no matter their power, don’t earn the same salaries with players.
Meanwhile, people’s death in their hundreds as a result of the strike brings sorrow and grief to many homes daily. Medical professionals are fleeing the country in droves and those who have not made up their minds to leave are getting frustrated by the day.
Whatever agreement is arrived at by the end of the day, would be at a grave cost—lives have been lost forever and the health care system would have again, taken a few steps backwards. And because nobody gets punished for this grandstanding and show of force, it will happen again, sooner than we think. Each strike with its toll. The frequency of strikes in Nigeria speaks eloquently to our irresponsibility and lawlessness as a nation.
At the thick of all of these, the President was abroad taking care of his own personal health, for the fifth or so times in less than two years. The President’s frequent medical trips say a few things about leadership and his perception of it. About two years ago, he decried medical tourism with its drain on our foreign exchange.
This was his main justification for banning foreign medical trips for government officials. He has violated his own laws, not once, not twice. Obviously, his concept of leadership is patterned after Animal Farm. Secondly, the nature of an ailment that has necessitated these frequency of trips and lengths of stay would have affected his job had he been an executive in a multi-national company.
The country therefore needs to know more and then decide whether it is in its best interest to put an aged, ailing man forward in 2019. Thirdly, in these days of telemedicine, couldn’t some diagnoses and treatments be done across the waves to save some cost and embarrassment to the nation? Fourthly, couldn’t some of these medical personnel be discreetly flown into the country, again to save cost and embarrassment to the nation?
Fifthly, how sensitive is he as a leader to the pride and sensibilities of Nigerian medical personnel who believe they are better qualified than the people he is consulting if only they were given the tools? By affirming the superiority of foreigners, how sensitive is he to the pride of the country he is claiming to lead? Speaking of pride to the nation, is it not possible to assemble top Nigerian doctors in the diaspora to attend to whatever is ailing him?
Sixthly, what efforts has he made to domesticate for the future, the treatment of his ailment for the benefit of other Nigerians? Finally, and this is the big one, what efforts has he made toward having improved medical facilities that would make foreign medical trips for those coming after him unnecessary?
It is pertinent to state that while Mr President is out there taking care of his personal health, one person dies of cancer every hour in Nigeria while 15 children die every hour of water borne diseases. Malaria and AIDS take 200,000 lives every year. About a tenth of Nigerians are diabetic. We have one of the poorest doctor to patient ratios in the world. A ratio that is getting worse as population increases and doctors disappear. Surely, this Leader’s personal health challenges should make him take a second look at the health care sector of his country.
Early in the week, Melanie Trump, wife of the American President was hospitalised. In less than three hours, Americans and indeed, the whole world knew the nature of her ailment, the nature of her treatment, which hospital treated her and how long she would be there for. This is how it should be as information that is swiftly and competently released douses tension and averts distractions.
One wonders why our President’s ailment has to be so shrouded in secrecy. It should be noted that not only was she treated in the US, she was treated in Washington, a stone’s throw away from her residence. In Nigeria of petro-dollars, we struggle to find one quality hospital in the whole country. Shame.
It should not escape us that the President’s frequent medical trips and the way they have been handled, are a minus for him as a person and as a leader. And no matter how you look at it, they make him less eligible for the highest office in the land come 2019.
Back to the JOHESU palaver. We should avail ourselves of the unique opportunity of having a Labour Minister who is a medical doctor and a Health Minister who is both a medical doctor and a former activist to leave the welfare of the workers in that sector better than before, and by so doing, avert frivolous and irresponsible strikes.