Kuni Tyessi writes that with the strike by the Joint Health Sector Unions, activities in secondary and tertiary health institutions have been grounded, leaving tales of woe in its wake
Asiwaju Bode Gbadebo is a deputy editor in one of Nigeria's foremost newspapers. He lost his wife recently as a result of high blood pressure. Reports say she was hospitalised in a Lagos General Hospital but due to lack of medical attention, she was moved to several private hospitals within the metropolis and before long, she was dead at a prime age of 40. Her husband broke the news to his friends on his Facebook wall and with claims that his life will never be the same again. Lamentations and condolences quickly poured in but unfortunately, no amount of tears can bring back the dead.
Mrs. Chinaza Udo (real name withheld) was a pregnant woman who attended ante-natals at the Asokoro General Hospital in the Federal Capital Territory. Afraid that complications might arise and if at all they do, there should be a standby remedy, she registered again at a private maternity clinic. She was scanned and the results disclosed that she would birth twins, a boy and a girl. However, this was not to be. She suffered prolonged labour due to the private hospitals's inability to manage her situation in the face of a protracted strike by Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU). The joy of the family was cut short as the twins were said to have died two days to delivery. They were evacuated from the mother whose present state is a distortion of reality. Time, energy and resources have been spent and gone and yet the sad news.
Another is the case of Titus Tambaya, a man above 50, who has been scheduled for eye surgery, all in a bid to salvage his sight from the ravaging effects of Glaucoma. With the protracted labour unrest, Tambaya has been left to his fate, or better still, the mercies of God. The problem persists, the sight is deteriorating and the end of the strike is not in sight.
The aforementioned cases are a meagre percentage of what hundreds of Nigerians have been made to go through as a result of JOHESU downing its tools. The media have been awash with stories of Nigerians being stranded at the nation's hospitals with very few finding alternatives in private hospitals which many have adjudged to be limited in terms of specifications and outrightly beyond the reach of the common man due to exorbitant costs.
A visit to Wuse Zone 3 General Hospital within the FCT reveals that the members of the Union are not smiling at all. While doctors are ready at hand to deliver services, members of the health body who are expected to work with the doctors and ensure smooth delivery are nowhere to be found, after declaring that this will be the mother of all strikes for government's failure to honour their demands.
Everyday services of drugs administration by nurses have stalled. Laboratory scientists and technicians cannot be found to carry out tests and produce results. Midwives who are expected to show more empathy especially in cases of child birth have also decided to stay at home thereby giving Traditional Birth Attendants a field day to fully operate and ward maids have cashed on the opportunity to take some rest. All of them are hopeful that with an arm-twist on the federal government, their Eldorado might just break through.
Same goes for Maitama General Hospital which is known to be a hub for patients, and those on referrals, judging from the fact that it has a lower flow of traffic compared to Wuse and Asokoro General Hospitals due to location and proximity of several patients. A visit to any of the hospitals simply buttresses the fact that more stories of anguish are bound to be told if lasting solutions are not found and reached by the parties involved.
This trend further exposes Nigerians to the disadvantages of buying drugs over the counter without prescriptions due to the ineffectiveness of the sector as a result of the unrest. They are also exposed to quacks who have seized the opportunity given by the strike to lure unsuspecting Nigerians who fall prey in the face of not having choices to choose from.
With the above negative effects and more, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, has cautioned that JOHESU has no constitutional right to harass other health workers not on strike or lock government facilities. The minister gave the warning in a statement issued by Mr. Oshundun Olajide, Deputy Director, Media and Public Relations of the Federal Ministry of Health.
Adewole said that the "Health sector is one of the essential services that are prohibited by law from embarking on strike action. However, the Ministry of Health has been subjected to so much ridicule and embarrassment as a result of frequent strikes by the different professionals that make up its work-force."
He said the demands by the Union to be at same pay level with doctors, is not realistic.
"Indeed, the federal government has put machinery in place to ensure that the strike is called off by meeting with JOHESU officials on several occasions.
"But what JOHESU is asking for is parity with medical doctors, which is neither practicable nor acceptable to the federal government."
Also, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) newly elected president, Dr. Francis Adedayo, has appealed to the federal government to honour all agreements with JOHESU, and end the ongoing strike in the nation's health sector.
He made the appeal on behalf of the association in a communique issued at the end of its 58th Annual General/Scientific and Delegates' Conference which held in the FCT.
However, in a swift reaction and to disapprove what the national chairman of the NMA has called for, chairman of the Bayelsa State chapter, Dr. Keme Pondei, has described as selfish the demands given by the striking workers.
Pondei, in a statement in Yenagoa, regretted that the strike was aimed at disrupting quality health delivery.
He said: "The demands by JOHESU members made up of mostly cleaners, ward maids, laboratory scientists, nurses and pharmacists to get equal pay as medical doctors, are unobtainable anywhere in the world.
"Equal pay with medical doctors is unobtainable anywhere in the world because while doctors are not opposed to improvement in emoluments, we oppose equality of pay.
"NMA notes with displeasure the attempt by an amorphous illegal group of allied health workers who are mostly cleaners, ward maids, laboratory scientists, nurses and pharmacists among others, called JOHESU to disrupt the provision of quality health services to the good people of Bayelsa.
"JOHESU is trying to arm-twist the federal government through a national strike for a long list of demands because any attempt at granting this request, means that same must be applied to medical doctors."
The Senate also lent its voice and has pleaded with the Union to call off the over three weeks strike. The call was made by Senator Oluremi Tinubu in respect to the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus within some African countries.
The debate and fight goes on with accusations and counter accusations piling up while the masses are sacrificed daily on the altar of ego and strikes. Stakeholders have called for an end to the unfavourable action but not without putting into consideration the demands of the Union. How soon will it end and will the demands of the Union be reached? Only the future can tell.