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Strike: We’re suffering too, hold government responsible, doctors tell patients

Doctors, under the aegis of National Association of Government General Medical and Dental Practitioners (NAGGMDP) have urged Nigerians, especially patients at various hospitals, to hold the Federal Government responsible for the ongoing industrial action embarked upon by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).

The doctors also berated the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) for not doing enough to save the health sector from collapse, noting that doctors were also suffering and seeking for alternative sources of income.

However, President Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), yesterday, met with members of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) at the State House, Abuja, during which he appealed to the NARD members to return to work.

Speaking yesterday at the Association’s first Abuja Scientific Conference and Inaugural General Meeting with the theme “Entrepreneurship in Medical Practice: How Feasible”, NAGGMDP’s National President, Noel Dokun, lamented the neglect of the health sector by government at all levels.

According to Dokun, “no doctor wants to leave his patient to suffer unduly,” adding that the doctors were pushed to the wall and had to resort to strike to press home their demands.

He lamented that due to the poor conditions of Nigeria’s health care, bad remuneration and deteriorating hospital facilities, many medical doctors were abandoning the country for greener pastures abroad.

While accusing the government of dishing out propaganda to turn the citizens against doctors, Dokun said the exodus had increased the workload of doctors who were still in government service, and would affect good health care delivery.

He said: “Government needs to reawaken to its responsibility to know that healthcare is a social service and the right of every Nigerian. On the strike, there have always been alternatives. But the fact is that the alternatives have not in most cases yielded any result and that is what always leads to strike.”

Buhari’s meeting with the NMA came 40 days after the NARD declared an indefinite strike. The meeting was attended by the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige and Minister of State for Health, Olorunnimbe Mamora.

During the meeting, Buhari asked the health workers to return to their duty posts, urging others contemplating strikes to opt for settlement of issues by negotiation, no matter how long it takes.

“The lives of citizens that could be lost or damaged when doctors withdraw services, are precious enough to be worth opting for peaceful resolution of differences,” the President noted, according to a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu.

Buhari said the outstanding issue of an Establishment circular issued by the Head of Service, removing House officers, NYSC Doctors from scheme of service had an addendum circular from National Salaries and Wages Commission to clarify that they will continue to earn the wages attached to them on their present wage structure.

“I request that the agreement reached in the meetings of 20th and 21st August captured in the MOU which I have seen be religiously implemented,” he added.

To further improve the health sector, the President said budgetary allocations had been increased and a Health Sector Reform Committee, under the Chairmanship of the Vice President, had been commissioned to identify and address weaknesses in the Health System and align with global best practices that raise public confidence.

“We are also supporting initiatives to expand health insurance coverage and bring more resources to health financing. We have many more challenges ahead and much more to do, for our large population.

“In this respect, it is important to remind you that, as senior medical personnel and representatives of one of the most respected professional groups in the world, your responsibility for the health and wellbeing of Nigerians are clear.

“It does not end only with the welfare of your members, but continues with a sense of responsibility for the entire country and its sociopolitical health and national stability,” he added.

The President commended the role the NMA has been playing as the apex professional medical association in Nigeria, especially with regard to the ongoing industrial action.

“This is a befitting role for the NMA, as a mature organisation, led by responsible members with long experience.

“I am proud also to learn of various feats that have been achieved in our hospitals, like the separation of conjoined twins and also the valiant efforts of our health personnel in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, much of which has earned us recognition at home and abroad, and the recent appointment of one of your colleagues as Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization. We again warmly congratulate Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu for his elevation,” he added.

Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said the NMA had been playing a critical role in the development of the health sector, particularly in tackling pandemics, participating in policy formulation and population health.

President of the NMA, Prof. Innocent A. Ujah, thanked the President for the appointment of members into strategic positions in government, assent to the Medical Residency Act and immunisation coverage.

Ujah said the association was concerned with the industrial action embarked upon by doctors and had been doing its best to alleviate the suffering of patients across the country while appealing for an urgent resolution. He assured the president of the continuous support of members of the association to improve health in the country.

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