AFTER much intrigues, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has called off its eight-week-old industrial action, which started on July 1, saying the decision was in response to ongoing concerns about the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and related issues.
Announcing the development to newsmen in Abuja yesterday, NMA President, Kayode Obembe, urged doctors to resume work today, while calling on government to recall the sacked resident doctors.
The association, which had met over the past one week, considered the suspension of the residency programme and it's likely effect on the doctors aspiring to be consultants, as well as the need for doctors to support government's efforts to stem the Ebola outbreak.
On its part, the Federal Government is expected to recall the resident doctors it sacked in the course of the strike.
And relieved at last, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, has expressed joy that the strike has been called off. According to his Special Assistant on Media and Communications, Dan Nwomeh, "the minister of expressed happiness with the development."
However, a group, Health Initiative Platform, has dismissed the indefinite suspension of residency training and sack of all the 16,000 resident doctors in all federal health institutions as diversionary and political, adding that Chukwu betrayed his profession by that act.
Speaking to newsmen in Kano at the weekend, the group's national president, Alhaji Bala Danladi, condemned the minister's position as a calculated attempt to wash off all efforts being put by Nigerian doctors to save the health sector from collapse.
"The pronouncement by the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, as far as we are concerned, is nothing but a betraying of his professional origin, as somebody who was raised through the ladder of residency training before becoming what he is now," he said.
Obembe told newsmen that the intervention of various organs and agents of government as well as and other well- meaning Nigerians aided the call-off of the industrial action. According to him, "delegates resolved to suspend the strike action in the interest of urgent national emergencies while negotiations continue.
"Delegates demand the immediate withdrawal of the circular suspending the residency training programme and sack of over 16,000 resident doctors, who constitute about 70 per cent of doctors' workforce in Nigeria."
He urged government to reciprocate the physicians' effort by ensuring their reinstatement, stressing that the NMA remained committed to the health of Nigerians and will not renege in its resolve and total support for the government in the effort to provide quality, affordable and accessible health services for the people.
The NMA further directed its state Ebola Monitoring Committee to continue liaising with their respective state governments to immediately set up emergency response teams for the prevention and treatment of any EVD outbreak in their states.
Obembe explained that their demands "centred on the improvement of the structure and traditions of our noble profession. These are categorised into two: the areas that deal with clinical governance and the areas that deal with redress for injustice."
According to him, "in the area of clinical governance, we have been able to extract from the government various circulars. For example, circulars have now been issued that only doctors whose degrees are registered with the Nigerian Medical Council can be given the title 'consultants.' We have been able to extract also that the post of Deputy Chairman, Medical Advisory Committee (CMAC), has been reinstated.
"We can also tell you confidently that the government has no intention to repeal or redress the act establishing the position of Chief Medical Directors. So these are the areas of clinical governance.
"In the area of injustice to our members, we have been able to extract from the government that relativity which we have been mentioning. There is firm commitment now that the arrears of relativity will be paid, and they have started paying. Two months of salary of relativity have been paid. This is the beginning of redress of the injustice we have encountered for the past 22 years.
"We have also been able to extract from the government the need to review the hazard allowance. In the case of Ebola, hazard allowance was only N5, 000. Government has realized that this was injustice and that it has to do something about it. It has assured us that at least 20 to 30 percent of salary will now go for hazard allowance."
Meanwhile, an official told The Guardian that government had at a closed-door meeting with the doctors promised to recall the sacked resident doctors, adding: "It is impossible to have a tertiary hospital without residency."
Danladi warned that such or similar stand from the Federal Government would not ameliorate the already worsened health sector. He stressed the need for the affected medical officers to stick to their demands and not to be deterred by the pronouncement.
"It is very disheartening on the part of government to take such harsh and drastic measure," he said. "This will not do any good to both the government and the health sector. We are even forced to start thinking that the stand is highly political. Government should understand that political treatment shouldn't be applied to health sector."
He further alleged that the minister was taking out his personal misunderstanding with some health professionals among resident doctors on the entire system. Nevertheless, the group called on all disagreeing parties to sheath their swords and come to the rescue of the already battered health sector.