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In the thick of an exodus of medical talent, resident doctors’ strike lingers, abandoned patients battle for their lives, as NMA issues 21-day warning to join

As the strike by doctors over pay and conditions lingers, medical talent is leaving the country in their thousands and patients requiring urgent medical care have been left in the lurch at the public hospitals, even at the National Hospital in Abuja

Resident doctors in Nigeria’s state-run hospitals are striking over “poor welfare” amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections and a move by authorities to scupper the industrial action. As the strike by doctors over pay and conditions lingers, medical talent is leaving the country in their thousands and patients requiring medical care have been left in the lurch at the public hospitals.

The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), an umbrella body for doctors in Nigeria’s teaching hospitals, said the country’s heath sector is ignored because little attention is paid to it by the ruling class. “We are not pointing our fingers to the right direction. Anybody who has malaria in the upper strata can travel abroad to get a checkup because they can afford it. But most Nigerians can’t afford treatment overseas,” NARD President, Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, told CNN.

CNN interviewed a patient, Emmanuel Agbenro, who is caught up in the midst of this unsettling dispute. “I’m only surviving by faith,” said Agbenro, who is supposed to be starting a second round of chemotherapy at the state-run National Hospital in the capital Abuja. He says he has received no treatment since August 2.

“Since the strike started, no doctor has come to check on me. I’m only surviving by faith,” Agbenro told CNN.

“We are not accepting patients with serious medical needs,” a member of staff at the National Hospital told CNN. “There are no doctors on the ground, so patients in bad conditions are referred to private hospitals,” added the employee, who asked not to be named as he doesn’t have authorization to speak with the media.

However, treatment at private hospitals cost significantly more than those run by the government and those who cannot afford private healthcare will suffer most.

At the National Hospital, CNN also spoke with Emmanuel Ejim who had surgery to repair a ruptured abdomen shortly before the strikes started, has gone untreated since the strike commenced. “Doctors are no more attending to me. The nurses only check on me whenever they please because there is no one to supervise them,” Ejim told CNN.

The resident doctors’ union wants a substantial increase of health workers’ hazard allowances — an additional payment made to frontline medical staff. “As of today, the hazard allowance is 5000 Naira ($12) for all health workers, and this was last reviewed in 1991,” Okhuaihesuyi said.

In early June, the federal government had announced plans to increase the hazard pay by 600% (30,000 naira, or $72) for senior health workers and 350% (17,500 naira, or $42) for junior staff.

“Since the start of the year, we have lost 19 members (of NARD) to Covid-19. There’s supposed to be insurance covering all health workers but as it stands, we do not have any death-in-service insurance given to the next of kin of our members,” the NARD president added.

The Labor Minister has responded to the strikes by invoking labor laws against the striking doctors, and a “No Work, No Pay” rule implemented, he said in a recent interview.

Labour minister, Chris Ngige, faulted the doctors for “failing to give mandatory notice” to the government before commencing the industrial action.

However, many Nigerian doctors are not listening to Chris Ngige’s defence. They have long given up on the country’s health sector as the brain drain intensifies.

Okhuaihesuyi said poor working conditions had contributed to the mass exit of Nigerian healthcare workers, who seek better-paying jobs overseas.

An estimated 20,000 Nigerian doctors have fled the country for greener pastures abroad, one study found and, recently, there was a mass recruitment of Nigerian doctors by an Abuja-based consultancy to work in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s going to get worse,” Kingsley Douglas, a Nigerian physician and public health consultant, said about the exodus of Nigerian doctors. “Many doctors do three to four jobs to just be able to earn a basic living in Nigeria,” he said.

Meanwhile the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has issued a 21-day deadline for government to resolve the conflict with resident doctors. The union threatened to call out their members to join the strike, where government fails to resolve the dispute.

NMA threatens to join strike, if unresolved

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