Published On: Sun, May 20th, 2018

National healthcare delivery threatened as sector’s crises worsen

. JOHESU strike is sheer blackmail – NMA

 By BAYO OBAJEMU

These are troubling times for the health sector beset by the panoply of problems, some of them of long-standing nature while others are offshoots of long years of neglect by the authorities. But the spectre of war drums that hovers over the sector now is more a product of competition for power and influence between the Joint Health Sector Union, comprising of nurses, midwives and laboratory technologists on the one hand, and the Nigeria Medical Association on the other hand.

The issues involved are deeply rooted, but at stake currently is JOHESU’s demand for an overhaul of the nation’s health sector, and pay parity with doctors, as well as advocacy for a change in the current system where only medical doctors are appointed chief medical directors of federal and states’ health institutions.

Comrade Biobebelemoye Josiah, the president of JOHESU stated that ” the widening disparity between the pay structure of doctors and other health professionals is a “slap in the face of other professionals in the health sector who are equally important in the health chain”.

Last year, the Federal Government released about N25 billion to the sector in the wake of agitation and threats of more actions. According to reports, doctors took a large chunk of the money and left a meagre sum of five billion naira for JOHESU. It protests against the sharing formula that has morphed into full-blown industrial action since March, after series of pleas to federal authorities to make amends failed woefully to yield positive results.

The strike embarked on has not only paralysed health care delivery across federal institutions but more galling is the fact that state and local governments have joined the strike. Competent health sources said the backlash of the lockdown has in part produced huge casualty figures across the federation. More than 600 people are said to have died in federal health institutions alone.

Just last week, an engineer with an ICT company was reportedly shot by armed robbers in the outskirts of Ogun State and was rushed to Reddington Hospital in Ikeja after there were no medical personnel to attend to him in Ikeja. At Reddington, he was not attended to as the hospital demanded for a police report. The engineer eventually died.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has severally appealed to the five unions that make up JOHESU to reconsider their stance. The minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, said the federal government has honoured the agreement reached with the unions on September 30, 2017, including payments of promotion arrears and other demands, but JOHESU insists on 100 percent compliance

JOHESU president, Bioboyemonye Josiah said part of demand is increase in retirement age from 60 to 65, upwards review of CONHESS salary structure among others, but Ngige said government has met more than 80 percent of the demand and as such the Union ought to understand and show patriotism, saying government will not hesitate to wield the big stick by invoking no work no pay rule.

The Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, has, however, warned that its union will embark on strike should the federal government accede to the demand of JOHESU. Dr. Henry Adebayo, deputy chairman of NMA in Kwara State, said ‘We will not hesitate to go on strike should the government do the bidding of JOHESU”.

Adebayo said the union is aware of the crises in the sector, ” but we must note that   JOHESU is not patriotic and realistic about their demands’, he said.

Adele Ajike, a business executive said ”the federal government should do more to end the crisis given that the health sector should be in the mood for domestication of pressing international challenges such as the resurgence of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Already about 23 people have been confirmed to have died of the disease, while 40  are already confirmed to have the disease.

In this year alone, more than 150 Nigerians have died from Lassa fever and meningitis, all these calls for concerted efforts of health professionals.

Already, patients are decimated at University of Lagos Teaching Hospital, as they are across teaching hospitals in the federation.

JOHESU last Friday further accused doctors and federal ministry of Health of complicity in the strike. Josiah, the chairman of JOHESU warned that the union will not call off the strike until their demands are met 100 percent.

A patient, Chidimma Ufuoma at University of Lagos Teaching Hospital, Idi Arabs told this newspaper that she had been at the hospital for the past two weeks, saying her case has worsened but said she could not leave because of money and the fact that she distrusts private hospital. She said she has abdominal complications, which would have been operated upon were it not for the strike.

The same scenario played out at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital in Ikeja, where patients with different ailments are left stranded. Many patients have moved out to private hospitals. When this reporter visited the teaching hospital in Ikeja, many patients with their families were seen moving out.

Dr. James Ngoye, a gynecologist told this newspaper that ”the federal government should not yield to blackmail but should resist the intimidation of JOHESU.

”Let it be known that what we are witnessing is blackmail, and we call on the federal government to resist it. If they yield, we in the NMA will embark on strike’, he said.

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