Saturday, September 18, 2021

Doctors Strike in Nigeria

 There are currently about 42,000 doctors in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with more than 210 million people. 

Of the doctors, 16,000 are resident doctors who participate in the strike organised by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).

It is the fourth time that Zubaida and her colleagues have gone on strike since the coronavirus pandemic began last year. This time around, they insist their action would not be suspended until the demands – including pay rise and payment of previous unpaid salaries; an increase of hazard allowance; better facilities and equipment – are met by the government.

Those doctors, who are pivotal to the country’s front-line healthcare, have long complained of being ill-equipped, overworked and underfunded. Some of them, even in metropolises such as Lagos and Abuja, have not received their salaries for months.

This year, the government has reportedly allocated just 4 percent of the entire budget for the health ministry, leaving already crumbling public hospitals due to chronic underfunding under a lot of strain.

"Samihana Mustafa", a doctor in central Nasarawa state, explained, the system was in an “appalling condition” as people die in the hospitals because of “avoidable causes”.

“I once had to refer a patient that was presented with severe hematemesis (vomiting blood) to another hospital, as the endoscopy machine wasn’t functional. Sadly, the patient died on the way.”

Others are left to die in hospital beds without being diagnosed or receiving treatment. The ruling elite and wealthy Nigerians travel abroad to seek medical services, spending an estimated $2bn annually on medical tourism. President Muhammadu Buhari, 78, recently faced criticism as he returned from London following a regular medical checkup while doctors were on strike. Buhari has spent 200 days in total on official medical trips in London since he came to power in May 2015.

“What the ruling elite forget is that they may have medical emergencies and have to depend on the weak health system,” said Dr Ifeanyi Nsofor, Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute. “It is in the best interest of everyone – rich or poor, for the system to work.”

Thousands of Nigerian doctors have moved abroad in recent years for better salaries and working conditions. Last month, in the midst of the latest strike, hundreds of Nigerian doctors participated in a recruitment exercise in an attempt to work in Saudi Arabia – though only seven positions were available.

According to a 2018 survey by Nigeria Health Watch, 88 percent of doctors are actively seeking opportunities abroad. Almost half of the respondents said they have between five to 15 friends and colleagues working in the medical profession who had moved out of the country within the last two years.

Najah Nuhu moved to the United Kingdom in 2019. She said she has had “a love-hate relationship” with the system during her time working as a doctor in Nigeria.

“The love part of it obviously comes from wanting to help out the people of your community because actually the country and the community did invest in you in a lot of ways,” Nuhu said. “The hate part is the failed system in which you always feel like your hands are tied. You want to help but you can’t because somehow the service, the facility is not available.”

As Nigeria’s healthcare bleeds, striking doctors pledge to fight | Health News | Al Jazeera

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