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A health worker hands out leaflets on how people should protect themselves from the new coronavirus, in Lagos, Nigeria, March 31, 2020 as the city faces a two-week lockdown with residents told to stay in their homes.
Sunday Alamba/AP
Health

Amid a Stand-off With the Government Over Unpaid Wages, Nigerian Doctors Call Off Strike


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Doctors in Nigeria on Monday called off the second strike action they embarked on one week ago.

According to a statement from the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), the doctors are calling off the strike to allow the government time to meet outstanding demands following appeals by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi, and other stakeholders. 

The doctors, via the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), first went on strike on May 20 to protest police harassment of its members, despite publicly declared lockdown exemptions for health care workers. 

To protest a not-so-new set of issues, the doctors, this time via NARD, asked the federal government and state governments “to provide adequate personnel protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 respirators, gloves, etc. to all health workers,” as well as a plethora of payments and COVID-related allowances the doctors were promised three months ago when the pandemic first hit Nigeria.

According to a statement by NARD, the doctors will continue to negotiate with the government to ensure their demands are met and will reconsider another strike in March. 

“The National Executive Council deliberated extensively on the ongoing NARD strike that commenced on June 15, 2020 following her Emergency General Meeting to consider the federal and state governments’ responses to the minimum requirements,” said NARD President Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, who read the doctors’ communique to journalists.  

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“The NEC acknowledges the provision of the Personal Protective Equipment to some hospitals. These PPEs are consumables and non-reusable, therefore the need for sustained supply. COVID-19 inducement allowance has only been paid to 11 federal health institutions and most state governments have yet to review the hazard allowance of health workers,” he added. 

Meanwhile, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed — alongside Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige — criticised the strike action by the doctors at a press conference in Abuja on Sunday. 

“There is no doubt that the strike has impacted negatively on public health, putting many lives, including those of their members, at risk. This is not right and it clearly negates the Hippocratic Oath to which the doctors subscribe,” said Mohammed. 

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“While the Federal Government continues to engage the resident doctors in negotiation, we want to use this opportunity to appeal to them to respect their oath and put life above other considerations. This is an ill-timed and ill-considered strike,” he added.

Mohammed also stated that 55,031 health workers in 35 COVID-19 designated hospitals and medical centres had been paid special hazard allowances totaling N4,642,485,146 (~$12 million) as of Sunday. Three Lagos-based doctors told Global Citizen they were yet to receive any allowances, which are intended as additional compensation for health care workers putting themselves at risk to fight COVID-19. 

“The government has bent over backwards to meet the demands of the striking doctors. We must express the government’s consternation that resident doctors will choose a time like this, when we are battling a pandemic, to embark on a strike,” Mohammed said. 

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Nigeria has a history of doctors strikes; including as far back as 2004 and as recently as 2017. Unfortunately, the issues have not changed much and doctors continue to be underpaid and overworked due to a shortage of doctors and poor funding of a struggling public health care system.

To put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic globally, we need to urgently develop tests, treatments, and vaccines, and we have also got to ensure that these anti-COVID-19 tools reach everyone, everywhere, equally. 

Join the movement to fight COVID-19 by taking action here to support our Global Goal: Unite for Our Future campaign, to urge world leaders to step up funding to deliver and distribute tests, treatments, and vaccines, in a way that’s equitable and ensures no one is left behind. 

You can also learn more about COVID-19, its impact on the world’s most vulnerable people, and what we can all do to help stop it through our COVID-19 coverage here.