June 14, 2020

Strike: Healthcare services threatened as FG, NARD fail to agree

FG still dwelling on promises – Sokomba

Any reduction in number of doctors will affect COVID-19 patients — Ihekweazu

By Chioma Obinna

The fight against the COVID -19 pandemic in Nigeria may suffer a set back as the Federal government is yet to honour the agreements it signed with the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, and the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, three years ago.

This development has arisen even as the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu has warned that Nigeria cannot afford any reduction in the number of available doctors, now that the country is faced with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the NARD had last week issued an ultimatum to the Federal government threatening to embark on industrial action should the Federal government fail to meet their demands by today (15th June 2020).

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Vanguard gathered that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, had met with top officials of the Ministry of Health, the NMA and the NARD to avert the planned strike by the Association.

Speaking to Vanguard, the National President of NARD, Dr Aliyu Sokomba who confirmed the meeting with the leadership of the House of Representatives and other top officials of the ministry lamented that the Federal government was still dwelling on promises and assurances without action.

Sokomba who was dismayed by the government’s non-implementation of the agreement maintained that their demands were all issues they have been on with the government in the last three years.

“When we presented the issues to the leadership of the House of Assembly, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, he was surprised that those issues were persisting even after he had intervened several in the past, and the agreement was reached to get the matter behind us and they were persisting.  Basically, his intervention was like the previous ones he had with us to start the process of implementation of the agreement that was reached before now.

“The only challenge we had was just that the Speaker does not have jurisdiction to affect the issues we have with the state governments, especially, in Kaduna and Kogi states. Our members in those states may not benefit from the issues even if it gets resolved. We will have nothing to present to them as part of the resolution of our interactions with the Speaker.”

He said most of the promises were reiterated but the same old promises were what they got.

“We are hoping within the period of our ultimatum, those promises will materialise to positive outcomes that we can present to our members for consideration for the industrial action.  Unfortunately, the National assembly has made an effort to see that this matter is resolved but we still have issues with the ministry of health and other stakeholders on the agreement reached because what we have now with them are the promises and assurances.”

Asked if the strike will be averted, Sokomba said: “It is left for the executives to effect the agreement so that we can forge ahead and present them to the National Executive Council, NEC, of our association for consideration.”

On their next line of action should the government fail to meet the deadline, Sokomba said he plans to present the promises that have been made to the NEC for consideration and whatever they shall have to be their next line of action.

On if the strike will hold, he said: “Yes, depending on the outcome of what happened between now and the end of the ultimatum.”

He said the COVID-19 allowances and health insurance for health workers were yet to materialise despite assurances to members of NARD.

“The federal government announced the provision for the payment of hazard allowance for all health care workers but be rest assured that the money has not got to anybody yet. Even though we had all the assurances that the money should be for us but further review of the situation, we found out that the money was far from getting to us right now because the budget has not even been approved,” he said.

According to Sokomba: “It took the government about three months to get to the point that we are to get them to agree that they will pay this hazard allowance and other COVID-19 allowance that has just been promised. So what it means is that it may take a longer time before this money eventually hits the accounts of beneficiaries. This is to tell you the reluctance that we have in the system of getting things done.

“The Minister has stated that these monies are being worked on, and I will convey that to our members for consideration but as it stands, we are still at the level of promises and I must tell you that we have been on this for the past two months and hoping that the promise will materialize into a positive outcome and the money will hit our accounts.”

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In a related development, the Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, has stated that the country cannot afford any reduction in the number of available doctors now that the country is faced with COVID-19 pandemic.

Ihekweazu said a reduction in the number of medical doctors could affect the quality of care provided to COVID-19 patients and the welfare of other health workers.

In a chat with Vanguard on the strike threat by the NARD,  the NCDC D-G recalled that right from the beginning of the pandemic, health systems in countries across the world have been over-stretched.

“We need more health workers in the fight and not less. While our mandate as it relates to case management is limited to providing guidance and support to States and treatment centres.”

He added that health workers have been at the frontline to provide care to patients and maintain routine health services.