Ojukwu Varsity

By Vincent Ujumadu

MEMBERS of the Association of Resident Doctors of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital, COOUTH, Awka, yesterday, began an indefinite strike over alleged inability of Anambra State government to honour the agreement it signed with the association on January 17.

Although the resident doctors were at their duty posts in the morning, patients were taken aback when, at about 12 noon, they announced that they were embarking on indefinite strike and then left their duty posts.

President of the association, Dr Obinna Anagbaoso, said the strike became inevitable because the state government had failed to honour their agreement.

Anagbaoso said: “An agreement was signed with the state government in April; government would provide adequate infrastructure that would improve clinical and diagnostic proficiency for improved patients’ care and specialist training; complete and adopt staff condition of service, including granting of in-service training to qualified medical officers, as well as place staff in the appropriate salary scale with implementation of full welfare package as obtainable in other tertiary institutions.”

Barely hours after the doctors began the industrial action, Governor Willie Obiano intervened and scheduled a meeting with the striking doctors, expressing surprise that the resident doctors were not treated as their colleagues in other teaching hospitals.

The meeting with the doctors was scheduled to hold at the Governor’s Lodge and would be attended by the Commissioner for Health, Dr Joe Akabuike, and other top government officials.

”To throw more light on these issues, the dearth of modern equipment and diagnostic facilities has been impeding efficient health care delivery and hampering Residency training, research and academic progress and thus posing a serious blow to patients’ treatment and production of needed specialist manpower.

”For instance, a considerable amount of patients’ investigations are outsourced at increased cost, the length of admission is increased and with the rising service cost. All these translate into an enormous financial burden for the common man.”

According to him, “it is on record that health workers in the hospital earn the least in the country if not in the whole of West Africa and it is also no longer news that doctors here earn below 50% of their actual entitlement compared to their counterparts elsewhere.

”This meagre income hardly meets the basic necessities of life for the doctor and his family, let alone sponsoring professional examinations and academic courses of Residency programme. “Again, the staff of the hospital have been subjected to professional stagnation without promotion or progress since employment. This pitiful situation has been going on since the inception of the teaching hospital about seven years ago.

“Consequently, our doctors have become the laughing stock of their colleagues. Frustration and disgrace have led to a steady exodus of highly qualified and experienced personnel, including consultants and senior residents, thus rendering the workforce unstable and undermined.

”Obviously, the remnant of the workforce is thrown into severe exertion and exploitation, hence the recurring incidence of slumps among doctors overstretched and hyper-exhausted on duty. Needless to say, therefore, that patient care and Residency training programme suffer terribly.”

Anagbaoso regretted that the hospital, which is a strategically located tertiary health facility with so many great potentials of supplying intensive specialist care, generating seasoned doctors and cutting-edge researches, has been underperforming due to poor funding and lack of government commitment.

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He said although recourse to industrial action had never been the association’s intention, “unfortunately, we have been pushed to the wall for a long time and bruised and efforts to get redress have proved abortive.”

While apologizing for the inconvenience the strike might cause the patients, Anagbaoso explained that the doctors’ action was for the betterment of the state’s health sector to ensure that Anambra people enjoyed the quality and affordable health care.

He also appealed to Governor Willie Obiano to hearken to the plight of health workers in the state, even as he commended the governor for what he called the landmark innovations he was making in the state.

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Vanguard gathered that the governor promised to ameliorate the situation immediately.

Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr C. Don Adinuba, in a statement, appealed to the striking doctors to return to work as the government would soon address their problem.

The statement made available to reporters read: “This strike is a profound disservice to the people of Anambra State. Governor Willie Obiano did promise a review of their salary to make it more competitive.

“However, in view of the ongoing national effort at salary review across the board, the Anambra State government explained to the Resident Doctors that it would be untidy to review their salary alone last month, only to do another review for them once the salary review of other public servants is concluded. This situation was well conveyed to the doctors through the Commissioner for Health, Dr Joe Akabuike.

“More than any other group, the Resident Doctors at the state teaching hospital should exhibit a great understanding of what the present administration’s commitment to the growth of the hospital and its workforce.

“Medicine is a great vocation. Like other care providers, medical doctors have throughout world history been recognized as a group whose members lay down their lives for the benefit of humanity.

‘If any group of workers in Nigeria must embark on industrial action, there are laid down procedures which must be followed. There is, unfortunately, no indication that the Association of Resident Doctors at Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Teaching Hospital followed due process on embarking on the ongoing strike.

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Anambra is a state governed by law and due process, and our people expect all individuals and organizations in our midst to show exemplary behaviour in all things, in keeping with the culture of excellence evolving in Anambra State.

“Our state has in the last few years become famous for unprecedented social harmony. The level of industrial harmony in the state is unrivalled in the whole country. Ndi Anambra never imagined that the excellent harmonious industrial relations would be shattered by Resident Doctors at our teaching hospital. Governor Obiano has gone out of his way to raise the standards of the hospital and improve a lot of the people who work and study there like the Resident Doctors.

“The doctors are reminded that the casualties of their ongoing strike are not Anambra State government officers, but numerous patients at the state teaching hospital, especially the downtrodden who cannot afford to go to private hospitals for specialist treatment.

“In the name of the people of Anambra State, we appeal to the Resident Doctors to return to work immediately in the name of the Hippocratic Oath they have taken to save life to continue to work for the common good.

“We appeal to the doctors to give the Anambra State government time to conclude essential work on the new national minimum wage before it could start paying Resident Doctors a new and separate salary structure.”

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