15 February 2016

Nigeria: What Hope for Nigerians As Health Workers Down Tools Tomorrow?

On the 27th of last month , health workers in the country under the aegis of Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) and the Assembly of Healthcare Professionals (AHPA) met and gave the federal government a 15-day ultimatum which commenced from February 3rd to meet their demands otherwise they will proceed on a nationwide strike.

That ultimatum expires tomorrow Wednesday 17, February. A nationwide strike of health professionals looms from tomorrow if the government does not address the issue.

It is no gain saying that industrial actions no matter how short-lived have always had a negative impact on the people and operations of the health sector.

Most times activities are paralysed in public hospitals leaving patients and clients alike stranded, and neglected. This also leads to the loss of several lives especially when they don't have the money to access health care in private hospitals or cannot access the kind of special care they need from such hospitals.

The untold hardships Nigerians have been subjected to during those periods have always left in their wake heart rending tales amongst families, policy makers and even government itself.

Nigerians do not wish to have a repeat of the dark era when the country witnessed incessant industrial action by health professionals. It is never a pleasant experience when clinicians, pharmacists, nurses, medical laboratory scientists to mention a few, embark on strike. It is much worse when most professional in the health sector are on strike.

In 2014 for instance, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) went on a three-month strike, this was closely followed by JOHESU not to mention that of unions in various hospitals in the country ranging from primary to other levels of healthcare who did same.

It therefore behoves on government at all levels to do all within their power to avoid the black days.

A copy of the union's ultimatum obtained by Daily Trust Health Desk stated that the coalition embarked on an industrial action in November 2014 which stretched till February 2015 when it was suspended at the instance of the former President Goodluck Jonathan, who met with JOHESU.

They said the strike was suspended as a result of assurances by the former president that their issues shall be looked into and their demands met.

"Knowing and acknowledging that Government is a continuum, and having gone into series of Agreements with the Government of President Jonathan coupled with several court judgments in favour of JOHESU and AHPA which was neither implemented nor honoured, JOHESU is peeved that Government should flout court orders and fail to honour collectively bargained agreements willingly entered into," said the union in the ultimatum.

The union said inspite of suspending the JOHESU/AHPA strike on 2nd February, 2015, and holding subsequent meetings at the levels of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the immediate past President all their demands that led to the strike are still pending and are making their members restive.

In the warning letter which was addressed to Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Head of Civil Service of the Federation and copied some of the security agencies and signed by JOHESU's Chairman, Biobelemoye, Joy Josiah, they said unless government meets its demand, it will resume the suspended strike.

The unions decried the continued marginalisation of its members which contribute 95 percent of health care providers in the country.

Their demands include: implementation of new circular on promotion of its members from CONHESS 14 to 15 as directors, that the Head of Service of the Federation ensures the expedited issuance of an enabling circular authorizing consultancy cadre for health professionals that have adhered to due process, to be vested with consultancy status; and payment of arrears of specialist allowances to qualified hospitals-based health professionals with effect from January 1, 2010, should be ensured without any delay whatsoever.

The other demands include: immediate release of the circular on extension of retirement age from 60 to 65 years to be backdated to February, 2014 when the issue was presented to the national Council on Establishment, immediate and full payment of arrears of the skipping of CONHESS 10 which it said had remained outstanding since the year 2010; and demands that the Federal Ministry of Health comes up with a circular on residency programmes for all health professionals in Nigeria.

When the reporter contacted the chairman of the union over the phone he said as at yesterday no government official has met with them or done anything towards addressing their demands, adding that all the members will meet tomorrow and proceed on strike.

Asked if the union has considered the effect on the populace , he said it is because of that that they have delayed resuming the strike since last year adding that the onus lies on the government to do the needful.

Efforts by the reporter to get the Federal Ministry of Health's response failed as at press time as both the Minister of Health , Prof. Isaac Adewole and the ministry's spokesman were in a series of meetings with stakeholders throughout the day. But the spokesman promised to get back as soon as possible.

It will be recalled that the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire during his maiden visit to the Federal Neuropsychiatric hospital and the National Ear Care Centre in Kaduna had said that the present administration is working hard to prevent strike action by health workers, which according to him is a threat to survival of patients.

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