By Chioma Obinna
FROM the gates of most Federal and State health institutions across Nigeria, it is obvious that all is not well. A walk around the waiting areas and corridors only show few helpless patients waiting endlessly.
Since the strike called by the Joint Health Sector Unions, JOHESU, commenced midnight of Tuesday, April 17, 2018, hospitals across the country have suffered losses. Many avoidable deaths have been recorded and many innocent persons maimed for life. The striking health workers comprise about 90 per cent of the total health workforce.
JOHESU members are drawn from five registered associations including the Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutes, SSAUTHRAI; Nigerian Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives NANNM; the Non Academic Staff Unions, NASU; Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, MHWUN, and the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Workers, NUAHW.
The workers are demanding, among others, adjustment of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure, CONHESS; implementation of court judgments and upward review of retirement age from 60 to 65 years, arrears of skipping of CONHESS 10, employment of additional health professionals.
As a result of this latest strike action, the General Hospitals and Teaching Hospitals that are normally beehive of activities, have become a ghost town.
When Vanguard visited some of the affected hospitals in Lagos, it was observed that majority of the patients still on admission or still hanging around the health facilities were those without the means to move to more expensive private hospitals.
“God please help me. Christ, please don’t let my enemies laugh at me,” one patient lamented at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, last Friday.
The woman who later identified herself as Mrs. Joan Ebuka came all the way from Imo State to obtain a medical test for her 7-year-old daughter. The little girl was in pains and obviously required urgent attention.
Sadly, the health workers’ strike caught up with them.
Joan said she was turned back and told to revisit the hospital whenever the strike was called off.
Tearfully she recounted: “My daughter is dying. I hope the strike is called off soon so that they will see my daughter. Our health system is already weak and embarking on strike will only make things worse for poor people like us. I am appealing to the government to negotiate with the workers so that we can be attended to.”
Although, medical doctors were seen attending to some patients but the absence of nurses, ward aides and other key health workers was telling.
Kazeem, a relative to one of the patients, told our reporter that he had no idea there was strike on. “My brother needs to see doctor and nurse because of serious joint pains.”
At the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, and the Federal Medical Centre, Ebute Metta, both in Lagos, similar scenario prevailed.
Extension to states and LGAs
Investigations confirmed that health workers in Lagos State government hospitals are in total compliance with the directive given by the national body of JOHESU to join the ongoing strike.
Only skeletal services are being offered by Consultants and resident doctors at press time.
The situation was similar at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH; Island Maternity Hospital; Lagos Island Hospital; Randle General Hospital, Surulere, and Akerele Primary Healthcare Centre, among others.
The health records, pharmacy,and lab departments were shut and nurses were not at their posts.
Extension of the strike to states and local governments only worsened the situation. With this development, for instance, the LASUTH, that initially served as alternative to the LUTH could no longer offer services to patients.
At the laboratory department of LASUTH, only a handful of tests were being carried out by the doctors on ground since the laboratory scientists are on strike.
Patients expressed displeasure that government had failed Nigerians in view of the series of incessant strikes.
A patient, Mr. Ade Adedayo, stated: “We were at LUTH last Monday, but because of the strike we decided to come here only to discover that they are also on strike. I just wasted my transport money.”
Adedayo, who was at the hospital to consult with a physiotherapist over a hip problem, appealed for speedy resolution of the issues at stake.
“I am sure many people have died because of this strike. Why is our government doing this? Let them answer them. My hip is disturbing me.”
At the Lagos Island General Hospital and Lagos Island Maternity Hospital Friday, health workers also stayed away from work due to the strike.
When Vanguard visited the various departments the compliance was total.
The maternity unit of the Island Maternity Hospital, Lagos, was a shadow of itself as nurses were nowhere in sight. Pregnant women were only seen waiting for doctors.
According to Mrs. Nkechi Obi who is almost due for delivery: “I want to have a safe delivery. I don’t want complications during child birth because I know the doctors cannot do it alone.
A medical doctor confirmed that attending to patients without nurses and other health workers was an enormous task.
“Other health workers are on strike but we are attending to our old patients. We are not attending to or admitting new patients in my department but hopefully, they can come back in the next four weeks.” The doctor however, confirmed that emergencies are being attended to.
Few days ago, the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, threatened to resume its 2014 suspended strike should the Federal government accede to demands of the striking health workers. The National President of the Association, Dr Francis Faduyile, and the Secretary General, Dr Olumuyiwa Odusote, in a press statement, explained that their position was informed by extension of the ongoing strike to the states and local government- owned health facilities.
They also warned that no award should be given to non-medically qualified health professionals as it violates the January and July agreements of 2014 it entered into with the government.
Health watchers fear that if the crisis in the health sector is allowed deepen further, more Nigerians will pay with their lives.
Responding to the situation, the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole however claimed that government had met 14 out of the 15 demands of the workers.
Noting that the government was doing everything to resolve the crisis, Adewole, in a statement said the last demand was being addressed.
The minister also said there was no agreement between the government and JOHESU prior to the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. He said what JOHESU was brandishing was a 2014 minutes of meetings they had with the organs of Federal government.
But JOHESU has refuted the claims, insisting they were in possession of the documents where government functionaries, the then SGF (Secretary to the Government, Federation), Pius Anyim, all signed the agreement.
Findings by Vanguard show that some of the issues have been there for years.
In a chat, the Vice Chairman, JOHESU, Comrade Obinna Ogbonna, said except government met their flagship demand out of the 15 demands, and with a bank alert in their various accounts, the strike would continue.
According to him, the Federal government has not shown the commitment required to settle the issues because the drivers are all medical doctors.
“Like you know that the senior minister of health and the junior minister of health, are medical practitioners, to crown it all, the man who supposed to be the arbiter in this matter, the Minister of Labour and employment is also a doctor.
“We have seen that, that is the reason why these issues are not being pursued energetically to a logical conclusion.
“The flagship demand is the adjusted CONHESS.
If it is in line we will resolve the problem immediately. But we don’t want a situation where NMA, will dictate what government gives to us.
They cannot subjugate and suppress us. When they were making their own demands no body stopped them. Now that we are doing our own, which is not even up to what they collected and the government is considering it, they are blocking us. Please let the average Nigerian know the truth.”
Ogbonna said none of the 14 demands has been met as claimed.
“Yesterday at our meeting with government, we asked him pointedly where the circular for the 14 demands they met. He was taken aback. These things are political statement to make the people believe that JOHESU is evil.
“The CONHESS cut across every one of our demands, when they do it, we will reconsider going back but that is not to say we are jettisoning our other demands. We will sit down and look at the rest so that the pressure will no longer be on them.
He disclosed that that they have adjusted their meeting with government till today, Tuesday 14th May. But we must get alert before we go back to work,” he explained.