By Chinedu Obike
The Nigerian health sector appears to be in dire straits; an embattled sector desperately gasping for breath, just like the COVID-19 patients it’s meant to cater for. It is a sector that is perpetually at war with government – the very institution that gave it life.
Just last week, resident doctors, made up of medical school graduates training for specialization in various fields, had under the banner of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) agreed to suspend their strike action to give government some time to look into their grievances. Recall that NARD had in June, also embarked on a similar action for reasons yet to be addressed.
Well, that was last week.
This week, it is about the Joint Health Sector Union of Nigeria (JOHESU) – an important link in the medical delivery chain. It is an umbrella body that includes the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals, and many more. By directing its members to stay off work in protest over unmet conditions, medical delivery in public health institutions will, no doubt, be paralyzed. Structural and infrastructural decay, payment of health workers hazard and inducement allowances, among other demands, must be addressed, they insist.
The President of the union, Dr Josiah Biebelemoye, says his members are determined and will not waiver until the government engages them for a meaningful solution.
Though the Federal Government has declared the action as illegal, the strike is on and the worst affected are indigent members of the public. In a typical case of the grass suffering when elephants fight, indigent members of the public are left with the short end of the stick. Because they cannot pay for the services of private health facilities, their plight can only be imagined.
The onus is on the government to explore options for ensuring harmony in the sector.
Coming at a time when COVID-19 is still a matter of global concern, disruption of services in the health sector is one distraction the country can ill afford.