After 55 days of industrial action, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) yesterday directed its members across the country in federal hospitals to resume duty at their working posts with effect from today (Monday) at 8am.
Doctors embarked on an indefinite strike from July 1, following the expiration of two weeks' ultimatum to the federal government to accede to their 24-point demand.
The NMA's demands included a N100,000 monthly hazard allowance for doctors, the payment of clinical duty allowance for honorary consultants and the appointment of a deputy chairman, Medical Advisory Committee in teaching hospitals and Federal Medical centres, and discontinuation of recognition of non-medical doctors as directors and consultants.
But a source told LEADERSHIP that it took the intervention of the Senate president, David Mark, who personally swore on his honour to meet their demands before the doctors could be persuaded to suspend their strike.
However, the association has urged the federal government to reciprocate its goodwill by ensuring that resident doctors whose appointments were terminated are reinstated immediately without any punitive measures.
"Delegates demand immediate withdrawal of the government circular (Reference No. C3132/v/46 of 13th August 2014) suspending the residency training programme and sacking of over 16,000 resident doctors, who constitute about 70 per cent of doctors.
The president of the NMA, Dr Kayode Obembe, in a press briefing yesterday in Abuja, said that during the association's delegates' meeting to consider the updates of the strike action, last Saturday, it considered the fact, among others, that Nigeria is currently faced with health challenges and threats posed by the outbreak of the Ebola virus, and also the interventions of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Senate president, National Assembly and other well-meaning Nigerians.
He told journalists that suspending the strike would help to redress their injustice as most of their demands had already been met while some were still under negotiation.
On the contentious title of "consultant", Obembe said: "The area that deals with clinical governance, we have been able to discuss with government. Various circulars -- for example the circular that says that only doctors who are registrable with the Nigerian Medical Council can have the title of a consultant."
He added that the association has been able to ensure that the post of deputy chairman, Medical Advisory Committee, was reinstated, saying, "We can also tell you publicly that the government has assured us that there is no effort to repeal or to redress the bill establishing the position of chief medical directors. Those are the areas of clinical governance."
Furthermore, the NMA president noted: "In the areas of injustice, where injustices are being meted to our members, we have been able to extract from the government that the relativity which we have been mentioning -- there is far commitment now, the arrears of relativity will be paid, they have started paying; two months of salary arrears have been paid. This is the beginning of redress of injustice which we have been encountering for the past 22 years.
"As we know before, the arrears must be calculated for 22 years; we just said they should calculate for six months. That shows how patriotic and magnanimous the doctors are.
"We have also been able to extract from the government the need to review the hazard allowance. In the faces of Ebola, hazard allowance was only N5,000 for a doctor; government has realized that this was indeed injustice and they have realized that they have to do something about it. They have assured us that at least 20 or 30 per cent of salary will now go for hazard allowance.
"We have achieved something. That is the reason why we now said with the outbreak of Ebola and the lives of the people, we should subject all the others -- you know we have 24-point demands. All others, we shall continue on the negotiation table while we face the challenge of Ebola and other diseases that are ravaging the country."
Ebola outbreak traced to toddler's contact with infected fruit bat
The largest-ever outbreak of Ebola was triggered by a toddler's chance contact with a single infected bat, a team of international researchers have concluded after a major investigation of the origins of the deadly disease now ravaging Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.
A group of 17 European and African tropical disease researchers, ecologists and anthropologists spent three weeks talking to people and capturing bats and other animals near the village of Meliandoua in remote eastern Guinea, where the present epidemic surfaced in December 2013.
They discovered that the disease was passed from colony to colony of migratory fruit bats until it reached Guinea. Their research is expected to be published in a major journal in the next few weeks.
Early studies suggested that a new strain of Ebola had emerged in west Africa but, according to epidemiologist Fabian Leendertz, it is likely the virus in Guinea is closely related to the one known as Zaire ebolavirus, identified more than 10 years ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Leendertz said the likelihood was that the virus had arrived in west Africa via an infected straw-coloured fruit bat. These bats migrate across long distances and are commonly found in giant colonies near cities and in forests.
The outbreak has killed more than 1300 people in west Africa so far. Within a week of a two-year-old boy catching the disease in Meliandoua, both he and his mother had died and it was spread to nearby communities and urban areas by mourners at the funeral of one of the victim's relatives.
Scientists have suspected for several years that bats are the wild "reservoirs" of the disease, but direct transmission of Ebola between bats and humans is extremely rare, despite communities hunting them for food.
Nearly all previous epidemics had been linked to the bushmeat trade, with hunters picking up dead infected animals and people eating them.
Previous outbreaks have hit gorilla and chimpanzee populations with catastrophic death rates, leading some scientists to think they may be responsible for the disease spreading.
Chimps, gorillas, some antelopes and even pigs which may eat fruit dropped by infected bats have all been linked to the spread of the disease by the World Health Organisation.
But the researchers are confident bats are responsible as no evidence has been found of other animals being infected.
Primatologists and conservationists in the region who were contacted by the Observer all confirmed that the particularly vulnerable chimpanzee colonies had so far escaped.
Fruit bats are widely eaten in rural west Africa - smoked, grilled or made into a spicy soup.
"We spent eight days in Meliandoua itself. They told us they regularly catch bats, like every other village in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The evidence is not 100 per cent and we can only say that it is possible," said Leendertz.
Meanwhile, a British national in Sierra Leone has tested positive for Ebola, the Department of Health in London says.
- Observer, additional reporting AFP