We are suffering – Resident Doctors

We are suffering – Resident Doctors

Following its nationwide strike notice, The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors says there’s no going back unless both federal and state governments accede to its demand.  Speaking on a radio programme, Tuesday morning in Lagos, the  Public Relations Officer of the association, Dr Stanley Egbuogu, who expressed the frustrations of the group said all doctors working in isolation centres would join the strike being called to prevent further deaths of doctors, among other reasons.  Full details of the interviewed was captured by Juliet Umeh. Excerpts: 

Would you agree that  your association is adding to the pain of the country with the ultimatum you have  given to the government?

We cannot say we’re adding to the pain at this moment. The truth be told, we are actually suffering. As we speak now, just this morning we got the latest update of the number of our members that have been exposed to Covid-19.  The number is now 793  exposure to patients with covid-19. And as at this moment also, 137 have been have been confirmed or tested positive to Covid-19 and then 38 have recovered and nine are already dead. The one that died yesterday made it the number nine.  I think, we’re not protected and no one should see it that we are adding to the pain, we are actually fighting to solve the decay or weakness in the health system in the country and that is why, following our extraordinary general meeting which held in Bauchi State, we resolved to issue a 14-day ultimatum to the federal and state government to meet our basic demands and that is why we want them to come to the table and sort these things out.

So what are the basic demands?

The major demand is lack of provision of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes N95 respirators that filters the virus when any person wearing it inhales the air, provision of gloves and others.  These things are totally lacking in most of our federal and state teaching hospitals and even in some isolation centers and because of these inadequacies our members are exposed to the virus. Government cannot send solders to the war front without bullets or adequate protection and that is why our people have continue to be exposed to this dangerous virus. Let me also state here clearly that if one doctor is infected, remember if the person turns out to be asymptomatic, there’s also a greater danger of the doctor while seeing the other regular patients infecting other people. So, I think we are actually doing a great service to the country by trying to bring the government to order.

“Let me also say this to Nigerians, we don’t intend to go on strike, we are not happy to go on strike but truth be told, we cannot continue to suffer in the midst of plenty.”

Another demand is that the Jos University Teaching Hospital management sacked 26 of our members in the face of this pandemic. Recall that at the beginning of this pandemic, the government had actually recalled the retired health workers that are still strong to come back and join in the fight against this pandemic, that’s why we wonder why the chief medical director of Jos University Teaching Hospital went ahead to sack 26 young doctors that are actually involved in the fight against COVID-19. We think that this is an illegitimate sack and does not support the fight against the pandemic.

Another reason is that there’s lack of implementation of residency training act in both federal and state teaching hospitals. Now, this act, the chief medical director of Jos University Teaching Hospital never took records of  the residency training act of 2017 and this is a law. That is an abnormality, if the federal teaching hospital can do that, what is now happening in our State Teaching Hospitals.

In most of our state teaching hospitals, the workers’ salaries are being cut. You can remember the case of Kaduna State that slashed the salary of the health workers by 25 percent, that is not also acceptable to us and that’s one of the things we have asked the state government to stop and possibly refund all these people before we can suspend our strike.

Again, there’s lack of funding for the residency training. As we speak now, the 2019/2020  funding of the residency programme has not been captured in the budget. We’re about to pass the 2020 appropriation bill. We also learnt that it has not been included, so we are asking the federal government to make sure that the funding of residency training programme is included in the 2021 appropriation bill.

Then we also demand the arrears of our consequential adjustment of the new minimum wage to all our members. This arrears were paid as late as December last year and up until now some of our members have not been paid the money and we continue to work in the face of this pandemic.

Some critiques said doctors are fighting their own cause and not really concerned about the decay in the overall health system in the country.

“This is almost 100 days into the fight against COVID-19 pandemic and as I speak, we don’t have ordinary gloves and masks and N95 respirators, PPE are lacking in our hospitals. That goes to show the level of decay in our health system.”

If you can recall, one of the first things I said is that there’s lack of adequate equipment in our federal and State teaching hospitals. This is almost 100 days into the fight against COVID-19 pandemic and as I speak, we don’t have ordinary gloves and masks and N95 respirators, PPE are lacking in our hospitals. That goes to show the level of decay in our health system. Now, the main thing is that it is now affecting our members and it’s causing our members to lose their lives, causing them to be infected. That’s why we’re calling for a fixing of this decay in the health system. That is actually the number one if you look at our resolutions and our communique, that the government should make sure that the health facilities are well equipped so that we can continue to take care of our people.

The association gave the government 14 day ultimatum which elapses in a few days. What steps are being taken to ensure that all parties get to the dialogue table?

Following the release of our communique on the 13th of May 2020, we went to the media and our president was on the media talking to Nigerians, pleading with government to see that this issues are resolved so that we can get back to work. Let me also say this to Nigerians, we don’t intend to go on strike, we are not happy to go on strike but truth be told, we cannot continue to suffer in the midst of plenty. Let me state clearly here that we have engaged the media on several occasions to make sure that these issues are also addressed. We have also written to the federal ministry of health, even the ministry of labour, we copied  the presidency to make sure that these issues are sorted out as soon as possible. Just yesterday, the ministry of labour summoned us to a meeting and and we attended. They promised to start the payment of the covid-19 allowance but we are yet to see that. Now as regards equipping the hospitals, we have not seen anything yet. We are just watching to see what will happen and once that is cleared, we can now take further actions from there.

Now, it’s on record that the minister of health has appealed to the doctors not to go on strike, and asked them to use all the avenues of communications to discuss the issues they face. He also gave assurances that the doctors would be provided with necessary materials. If you were the health minister, how would you address this challenge?

To start with, after we had the first index case of COVID-19 on the 27 of February, I was the past president of the association, so I went to the medical director where I work, and I asked him the plan towards this pandemic. I noticed that the ministry of health has not communicated to both the chief medical directors and directors. Now I think that there’s a bridge in the line of communication. It’s more like the federal ministry of health is doing another thing but when you go to our local centers, you find out that they are not been carried along.

Also, the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors are not being carried along, Nigerian Medical Association is not being carried along and we’ve made this thing known to the federal ministry of health but we have not seen any changes. Everybody should be involved, let me  tell you, we have over 16,000 doctors that are our members. In fact we constitute more than the 60 percent of the total workforce in this country and there’s no way you can be handling such pandemic without getting us involved. There’s no synergy between the federal and the state government.

If I were the minister of health, I think some of these things would be well organized. I am not saying that he has not tried his best but in order to improve more, there should be a coordination between the federal and State government and also other stake holders should be carried along. For insurance, the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors is not carried along, despite series of correspondences we’ve written to them.  It is only when we used this 14 day ultimatum that the government started looking for us.

So what happens to the doctors in the isolation centers in the face of the strike?

Abnitio, we wanted to exclude them, but we felt that they are actually being infected because of the same problem we are facing at our local centers, so we felt we cannot allow them to continue to be exposed to this deadly virus. So we will call them to join us in the struggle.

Your advice to the government in the best interest of Nigerians.

The government should do the needful.  These things we are demanding is not a rocket science. Let me tell you, all the PPEs I have used in the 100 days of this pandemic, I bought them myself and because I bought them, sometimes, I reuse them but ideally, they are supposed to be single use. I know a doctor that has spent up to N100,000 importing PPE. Meanwhile, when we look at the media, we see politicians wearing the same N95 masks meant for medical workers while we that are in the forefront are not seeing them. Now. this money they promised to pay almost three months ago, it’s not rocket science to pay workers their money.

So while these demands are met before the aspiration of the ultimatum which is on the 14 of this month, I think the association will do the needful to ensure that we continue to fight COVID-19 together because we’re humans.

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