31 July 2014

Nigeria: Unending Doctors' Strikes


SADLY, the current doctors' strike, like the series of strikes that preceded it, would not change anything. The reason is simple - it is not based on sustainable principles. Doctors want improvements on their welfare, not even facilities for their work.

More indefinite strikes would occur as any gains from the present struggle would be lost to the weaknesses of the economy. Inflation is real. Wages do not match inflation. Doctors are over-worked; ironically there is a high level of unemployment among young doctors. Things are so bad that students in medical school cannot find places for their housemanship, the mandatory training that attaches them to medical facilities.

The strike is said to be indefinite. The issues are almost infinite. While doctors are pressing for better wages, the public is worried about the quality of private and public medical services. For the 24 demands doctors are making, the public can list more demands from the profession.

President of the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Dr. Lawrence Obembe, said the strike was based on failure of the Federal Government to meet doctors' 24-point demand. Many meetings and interventions by Ministers of Health and Justice proved futile. It is remarkable that NMA is embarking on this strike in defiance of an interim injunction by the National Industrial Court, Abuja.

The court order forbade the strike by all health workers. It halted the implementation of agreements reached with government until the substantive case before it was resolved. Before the law, the strike is illegal. For the public, the avoidable loss of lives is something people cannot understand.

Doctors are demanding a full recognition of their primacy in the medical profession. They want discontinuation of appointing non-medical doctors as directors and consultants. Other issues include specialised duty allowances.

The frequency of these strikes has become uncontrollable and untenable. It is difficult for the public to understand what doctors and the health sector workers really want. It gives the impression that doctors are putting unhealthy union politics above their Hippocratic Oath, which places saving of lives above every principle in the conduct of medical doctors.

Complications of the demands are that other health workers start their own strike to prove they are equally important, thus resulting in endless disruptions. How would government manage the endless strikes?

A health sector that can work smoothly, with the various interest groups finding their rightful places and getting what is rightly due to them is possible. Governments and unions can use the same well laid down best practices that have served other societies so well that wealthy individuals, often at public expense, travel abroad for medical care. Nigerians are tired of strikes, especially ones that cost lives.


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