Abuja — Doctors in Nigeria's state-run hospitals have walked off the job over what they call poor salaries, insurance, and facilities despite a third wave of coronavirus infections. Hospitals were already struggling to cope with the caseload and health authorities fear the strike, which began Monday, could overwhelm them and end up costing lives.
The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, or NARD, said the goal is to compel the government to uphold an earlier agreement on pay arrears, hazard allowances and honor benefits for families of members who die in service to the country. The government, for its part, said it was not aware of the plan for the doctors to go on strike.
But as the country faces a third coronavirus wave caused by the lethal delta variant, health authorities said the strike action is dangerous.
Ndaeyo Iwot is the executive secretary at the Abuja Primary Health Care Board.
"It is expected to affect those that are 50 years and above particularly those with co-morbidities," Iwot said. "The effect of the disease is most likely to be aggravated."
Out of about 42,000 registered doctors in Nigeria, some 16,800 or 40%, are residents.
Union officials have said there will be no exception for doctors responding to coronavirus cases at hospitals.
Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi is the national president of the association.
"There's no better time to have a strike action," Okhuaihesuyi said. "And as it stands, we have waited patiently for them to try and sort out the issues concerning the welfare of our members, those we lost, those that are still alive. And we actually want to apologize to Nigerians generally but at this stage you can't blame us."
Nineteen members of NARD have died since the pandemic started. The union is also demanding improvement on health care facilities across state-run centers.
In April, the union suspended a 10-day strike that stalled activities in various state health facilities.
The latest strike action comes as President Muhammadu Buhari visits Britain for medical reasons. He is expected to return to Nigeria during the second week of August.