WE ARE on the verge of a disaster. Amid escalating COVID-19 we are talking activism, politics and aggrandizement not health. What we need is to act decisively and quickly, else we will all end in a nasty situation.
Nigerian doctors have announced that on Monday, June15, they will embark on a two-week work action to send a sern note of warning to federal government that they have had the waters up to their neck in matters of their welfare, payments and general situation of the country’s health sector.
The physicians, led by the Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) are serious this time. They have been talking tough. “They are not smiling” at all. In a statement the physicians released on Monday to communicate the intended work action, National President, NARD, Aliyu Sokomba, said his body is not only miffed but afrayed by federal government’s unwillingness to address vexxed doctor’s concerns hence, their resolution to commence indefinite industrial action.
The physicians, in an announcement intended to all Nigerians explained thus: “Consequent upon the 14-day ultimatum duly served the federal government for indefinite strike action, in accordance with the resolution of the ordinary general meeting of the association on May 29, 2020, we hereby notify you that all resident doctors, medical officers below the rank of Principal Medical Officer (PMO) and House Officers across all the federal and state hospitals in Nigeria, shall be embarking on a total and indefinite strike action effective 12:01am on Monday, 15th June 2020.
“It is important that you make alternative arrangements for the care of the patients as the strike shall be total and indefinite. No service of any kind, be it emergency, care at COVID-19 isolation and treatment centres shall be exempted.”
The document signed by Dr. Sokomba added that the ultimatum was because of such developments as inadequate and inappropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers across country during coronavirus pandemic; the need for reinstatement of 26 disengaged resident doctors in Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) and payment of all salaries owed the JUTH doctors.
The body requested the universal implementation of the Medical Residency Training Act in all government hospitals and pay parity among doctors of equal cadre; “immediate implementation of the revised hazard allowance and payment of the COVID-19 inducement allowance as agreed with by the Federal Government and healthcare workers three months ago; and provision of funding for Medical Residency Training in the 2021 Appropriation bill and payment of all arrears owed our members in federal and states tertiary health institutions, arising from the consequential adjustment of the National minimum wage.”
They also called for stoppage and refund cuts in salaries of its members in Kaduna State.
NARD is keen on beginning the action four days from today. Upon learning of the development, I exhaled: ‘This again?’
I wondered why this could be coming to Nigerians at a time like this when they are having too much to chew on all-realms of hard life, from health to economic, social and spiritual grounds. I pondered what would happen to all of us Nigerians in this damned pandemic times if doctors close shops and the COVID-19 care centres and activities go dead in all isolation and treatment centres. What it means is that the day the doctors’ strike begin, we would all recul to our homes and wait for our turns to die.
Matters hit harder when I heard leaders of the body yesterday on Africa Independent Television (AIT) justify their quest and I learnt that other labour unions in the health sector are gearing up for theirs. Hence, my wonder how much more some people can make an almost totally down populace suffer.
As I struggled to fathom how we offended the physicians so much that they would wish all of us dead and really work hard to make it happen, I also thought hard of who and who we should go to beg to appease them so that they would “cool their temper” before it spoils everything. In the same way, I strove to understand why any government should make let such a vital group in the frontrow of such a critical warfare as the one we are fighting now in COVID-19 to the extent that they would not mind if everybody (including their family and relations) would die as a result of one anger-marked action of theirs.
Indeed, there are many justifiable grounds of acrimony for the doctors, and if sanely examined, nobody would find the reason why medical professionals on such a life-and-death duty would not have even PPEs in COVID-19 cases among other unacceptable denials. The doctors also mentioned unfulfilled promises made to them three years ago by governments. I found all that unfair and somewhat not wise for a society whose life is in the hands of the same people so denied.
However, there is one area, I have a difficullty in supporting the medical persons on the matter. I do not believe that human life is worth any material or subject of negotiation. I also do not think this is a good time to place politics and materials above humans and society. I recall what I wrote on this column when a similar development emerged at the early stage of the coronavirus pandemic. My views in the article, ‘Doctors’ Strike amid COVID-19: Hell No!’ which dwelt more on a similar call by the phyisicians in the South-East, are still my stand here. Exerpt:
“When I read the news of some physicians embarking on “indefinite strike” in Anambra and Enugu states, I was shocked… I expressed disbelief that medical practitioners, let alone doctors could choose a period of such a dire global health emergency as the current COVID-19 which has defied solution from even the WHO and the most leading nations of the world to drop tools.
“I wondered what… could make a Nigerian physician think anybody would exonerate him or her of blame, complicity and quackery or even go after him if the ravaging COVID-19 kills people because he chose not to answer his call to duty.
“I did not imagine any succinct reason why the doctors could justify the work action. I deemed the strike not worth any imagination… given the sadism I sense in its timing.
“Most baffling to me is the immense social magnitude of the disregard of the Coronavirus’ danger….
“When resident doctors use the excuse of an agreement they had with federal government, three years ago to stop work during such a period when calamity is already at our door step… it makes one begin to read obsession with wealth and lack of concern for their immediate society as well as anti-people arrogance if not arrant foolhardiness….
“The more I probed the development, the more I thought of our physicians as nothing but mean opportunistic political actors who are deliberately leading… (us) to harakiri and mass-social suicide. And I asked myself: why are we so cursed?
“Igbo maxim teaches that there are dance steps one does not engage in with a lump of tobacco snuff in his or her palm, no matter how pleasant one finds the snuff. COVID-19 or the Coronavirus is not a development to joke or banter with. Let’s fight it first. Our people also say: onye ụnọ ya na-agba ọkụ a dị achụ oke (no one gets commended for chasing rats for meat when his house is on fire).
“One is not saying that our doctors have no serious issue but… There are things that are acceptable as politics and activism not obvious attempts to serve everybody with undeserved death sentences. Killing is killing. There is neither a justification nor rationalisation of it even if one opts to kill one’s self as the doctors could be doing to their associations if only they understand the larger political import of their ongoing action.
“The worst that can happen to human life is dismissing its importance. The life of the human person is so sacrosanct that there is, arguably, no faith that does not emphasise it. Life is life. It is neither secondary to food, wealth, belief, emotion… nor equal to them….
“Life is not just about living things, it is about entire creation. It dwells on ethics, physicality and spirituality. Life is vital even for the agnostic and the atheist.
“However, it seems some people of contemporary time find life trivial and toy with it or make it object of any form of politics which buttresses the observation of Pope John Paul II that we now live in a world ruled by a “culture of death.”… If there is any group that should project such a value, it is not physicians who have taken the Hippocratic Oath which avows the sanctity of life and placing service above self. A section of the oath which doctors have been taking as mandatory pledge before qualification and certification states: “I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm”.
“Which doctor among those embarking on strike now does not know that his action puts our society in harm’s way?”
Truth is that neither the resident doctors nor the government will come out good in public reckoning from this. But worse is that any death that results in society will be recorded in both party’s book. The only way to avert the moral damnation which is weighty even the one who does not believe in a divine essence is to do everything apt to ensure that the June 15 doctors’ strike does not happen.