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    Categories: Viewpoint

An unnecessary strike

Male ward, trauma section. National Hospital, Abuja. Eight patients in admission, but no nurse on ground.

When disaster strikes close home, it speaks eloquently. I never took the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) – what a name – serious until a neighbour got entangled and nearly lost her three-year-old son. Sometimes, journalists forget that statistics are not just mere figures but could be human beings as well and until you’re involved in something, one might not appreciate the trauma those concerned go through in such harrowing circumstances.

The neighbour’schild was diagnosed with bronchial pneumonia last month and the dutiful mother took him to a general hospital here in Lagos where he was treated and discharged. Unfortunately the infection reoccurred, and to the hospital they went again where a new course of treatment commenced. That was when disaster struck as JOHESU decided to go on strike and the boy was asked to leave with other patients. A battle thereafter began as the parents started searching frantically for a hospital that would continue treating the boy and which they would be able to afford as well. Having nursed a child through a serious bout of infection, with my wife though, I could relate well with the parents’ experience. Fortunately, it ended well as the boy continued his treatment in a private hospital and is getting better.

But what about others across the country who are not and might not be as fortunate as my neighbour and her son? From Sokoto to Uyo, Ibadan to Umuahia, Nigerians are once more at the mercy of health care professionals who have abandoned their duty posts. Interestingly, doctors are not involved this time around, but they too have been on strike several times in the past few years. Like most other strikes in our own part of the world, this one, in its fifth week, has to do with money. Of course a labourer is worthy of his wages, the Bible says, and so workers reserve the right to demand what they feel is justifiable pay for their services, but recourse to strikes intermittently does no good in the long run. It is sad also that JOHESU is becoming more and more like our university lecturers who see strike as the only weapon to get the government to accede to their demands.

After meetings upon meetings, six at the last count, between JOHESU representatives and the Federal Ministry of Health led by the minister, Israel Adewole, a professor of gynaecology and obstetrics, 14 out of the striking workers’ demands were accepted by the government. The good news ended there as JOHESU later accused the health minister of refusing to sign and issue an implementation circular to that effect. Adewole in turn accused JOHESU of not showing up for the last round of meeting, as the two sides have not finalized the agreement. That’s where we are and scores of Nigerians are suffering and dying in public hospitals across the country. Have we ever wondered why the same category of workers in private establishments doesn’t go on strike at the slightest provocation or why all JOHESU staff are on strike since unionism is voluntary in Nigeria?

While doctors have been trying their best to keep public hospitals running, it is obvious things are still difficult and grim for many citizens, only those who are affected can tell better their tale of woes. Beyond an appeal by the senate while discussing a bill on ebola last week, our senators have done nothing tangible to see how this strike can be called off, I guess they are more busy with party congresses and summoning one public official or the other. With obvious gaps in reporting this strike, it is difficult to know if the fact that the health minister is a doctor is delaying a valid agreement to be reached. It is, however, on record that Chris Ngige, the labour minister, also a medical doctor, had issued a statement warning his colleagues not to jeopardise negotiations with JOHESU. Medicine is an attractive profession globally, but the way some of our doctors conduct themselves here leaves a lot to be desired. They have never thought well of other professionals in the health sector just as routine enquiries by patients are not usually welcomed.

But beyond cultural issues, this strike is uncalled off and JOHESU will do well to resume work. It is doubtful, however, if the federal government is doing enough to resolve it. Citizens too seem engrossed in politics to know that Red Cross members are now supporting doctors at hospitals like Sokoto Specialist Hospital, Sokoto, since only doctors are available. Since our leaders have the option of jetting out to treat even routine headache, they’re not bothered. Sadly, the citizens too care less.