Government should keep to agreements freely entered

The frequent face-off between health workers and the federal government has not only left an indelible stain on the image of the public health care system in Nigeria, it has also brought untold hardship to many Nigerians. On Monday, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) began another indefinite strike to press home their demand for better welfare. This is despite the fact that Nigeria is currently in the middle of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic that keeps claiming lives. We consider this development to be very unfortunate even as we call on the federal government to move in quickly to resolve whatever the issues are.

Healthcare delivery is critical to the well-being of any society. Yet if the authorities in Nigeria understand this, they have not demonstrated it given the manner in which they have over the years dealt with this issue. To be clear, resident doctors are demanding that the federal government provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all healthcare workers attending to COVID-19 patients and patients with other ailments; immediate reversal of the disengagement of all 26 resident doctors in Jos University Teaching Hospital and payment of all salaries owed medical doctors in the country. They are also asking that the federal government should include universal implementation of the Medical Residency Training Act in all public hospitals; ensure pay parity among doctors of equal cadre; implement the revised hazard allowance and payment of the COVID-19 inducement allowance as agreed with by the government and healthcare workers three months ago. They also want the federal government to provide funding for Medical Residency Training in the 2021 Appropriation Bill and pay all arrears owed its members in federal and states tertiary health institutions arising from the consequential adjustment of the national minimum wage.

These are legitimate demands that should compel action, especially at a time like this. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), for every qualified COVID-19 doctors unable to treat patients, not less than 600 patients will be affected. This no doubt will play out when doctors treating COVID-19 patients down their tools, especially because the country is moving against the tide of lean healthcare system to manage the rising cases of the virus in the country. While the federal government has said the strike amounts to insensitivity, the demands outlined by the doctors do not appear unreasonable. They should be urgently looked into so that the doctors can go back to work.

Already, patients requiring healthcare in most government hospitals across the country are being turned back as doctors are not on ground to attend to them. Many who may require emergency services and without enough funds to seek healthcare in private hospitals could unfortunately lose their lives. Should this strike persist for the next two weeks, and doctors attending to COVID-19 patients join their colleagues, it would mean the fight against the pandemic would suffer. The federal government must therefore find a way to put an end to incessant strikes that take heavy toll on human lives.

Notwithstanding a federal government that has proved incapable of keeping to agreements, we can only appeal to the doctors to consider the interest of their suffering patients. After all, their Hippocratic Oath obligates them to save the several lives that are now being lost due to the prevailing dispute. But the time has also come for the government to overhaul its collective bargaining machinery with a view to ensuring effective implementation of agreements it freely enters. Incessant strikes are hugely inimical to the health of the economy and, in many ways, disruptive of the social order. There is an urgent need to stem this ugly trend.

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