Health workers have extended the ongoing strike to states and council areas after talks with government have failed to produce an agreement.
The Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) and Assembly of Health Care Professionals (AHPA) have been on strike at the national level for three weeks now.
JOHESU is an association of health workers which comprises pharmacists, nurses and midwives, medical laboratory scientists and technicians, dieticians, and health information managers.
Only doctors are rendering skeletal services at federal health institutions. But yesterday, the joint unions directed their members to also withdraw their services and join the ongoing industrial action.
The directive is coming at a time the World Health Organization had declared another Ebola outbreak in the north-west of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday.
The country’s health ministry said there are two confirmed cases of the virus and 17 deaths as at Tuesday.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the outbreak declaration was made after laboratory results confirmed two cases of Ebola out of a sample of five suspected patients in the district.
Considering the deadly nature of the disease, panic is heightening by the day in Nigeria and other countries in the sub region that witnessed the outbreak in recent years.
Between July and September 2014, Nigeria had 19 confirmed cases of Ebola out of which eight people died. There were also eleven survivors of the disease.
The Federal Executive Council yesterday directed the Ministry of Health to step up emergency surveillance at all airports and land borders in Nigeria.
Briefing State House reporters after the Federal Executive Council meeting presided by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole said the move was to keep Nigerians safe.
He said the council was greatly concerned about the new outbreak of Ebola in Congo, adding that an emergency operation centre would be set up in Nigeria.
The minister said passengers from Congo and other neighbouring nations would be screened so that Nigeria would not be caught unawares.
“Of course, of great concern to the Federal Executive Council is the outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As you might be aware, over the last one month, DRC recorded 19 suspected cases of viral hemorrhagic fever and lost 16 of the cases,” he said.
Ebola is an infectious and frequently fatal disease marked by fever and severe internal bleeding, and spread through contact with infected body fluids.
Symptoms of the disease include fever, fatigue, weakness dizziness and muscle aches. Patients with more severe cases show bleeding under the skin, internal organs or even from bodily orifices like mouth, ears, and the ears.
Why we are shutting down services – JOHESU
National Chairman of JOHESU, Comrade Biobelemoye Joy Josiah and Chairman Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations (AHPA), Dr. Godswill C. Okara told newsmen in Abuja yesterday that government had not shown enough commitment to meet their demands particularly the upward adjustment of CONHESS Salary Structure as agreed in the Memorandum of Terms of Settlement signed on 30th September 2017 with JOHESU.
“We are left with no option than to direct states and local governments to commence and join the strike action nationwide from midnight of Wednesday, 9th May 2018,” they said.
However, they added that due to various appeals and interventions from well meaning Nigerians and opinion leaders, JOHESU has decided to temporarily put on hold other activities such as street protest/processions, rallies at state capitals and joint zonal picketing.
The unions said their demand for the adjustment of CONHESS which affects over 95% of the health workforce nationwide has been frustrated, because the Minister of Health, Minister of State for Health and Minister of Labour and Employment are all medical doctors. “They therefore feel unconcerned on matters of welfare of other healthcare providers.”
They allege that the Federal Ministry of Health has been thwarting all efforts at reaching an amicable settlement of their demands, after three rounds of meetings beginning from April 2 at the instance of the Minister of Labour and Employment.
The unions said that the preferential treatment given to medical doctors has remained the major albatross to peaceful coexistence of health practitioners in the health industry in Nigeria.
We are negotiating with striking health workers- FG
Meanwhile the Federal Government said that it is still negotiating with the striking Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU).
Professor Isaac Adewole, said the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, was leading the negotiation.
The minister said the government expected that all the issues would be concluded soon.
A fortnight ago, the minister had said the government did not reach any agreement with the JOHESU.
He had said the only thing the union had presented to the government was minutes of previous meetings held with the past administration, which he stressed could not be implemented.
Will the shutdown of hospitals affect doctors, patients?
Dr Ahmed Ganiyu Olanipekun, vice president of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) said while the presence of JOHESU members in the hospital makes work go smoothly , and complements the efforts of doctors, it is not true that nothing will be done without them.
He said emergency cases are still being attended to by doctors and that they are doing their best.
He said it is foolhardy for JOHESU to drag the states into the matter because many states cannot pay their workers regular salaries and that their demands for the ongoing strike does not benefit the workers at the state. He added that most people at the state level don’t have issues with their state governors.
He said JOHESU should be compassionate and address their needs based on professional merits.
Dr Olanipekun, said that as a senior registrar in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, he has performed three caesarian sections, within the strike period without JOHESU and that all other senior doctors in the department have been operating, too.
He said: “We appeal to them to be reasonable and have Nigerians at heart. Their going on strike will affect Nigerians but doctors will continue to offer their best.”
Former Chief Medical Director of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Prof Eugene Okpere advised the federal government not to tolerate and allow itself to be coerced with industrial actions by health workers.
Speaking during the national executive council meeting of the Medical and Dental Consultants of Nigeria (MDCAN) in Abuja Prof Okpere who has several decades experience in the health sector, said while government could listen to health workers demands it should be bold and honest enough to state what it could or could not do.
“Government needs to say ‘let us not politicize it. Whether you want to vote for me or not, I don’t care, let us rather care more for the common man.’ By all means government should listen to them but should not make promises they know is not possible,” he said.
He said 80% of strike issues and demands are ridiculous, adding that health workers whether doctors, nurses, and medical laboratory scientists among others are not suppose to go on strike.
While saying that he fully supports the enforcement of ‘No work no pay policy,’ he said there should be systems in place for health workers to make demands and air grievances without embarking on industrial actions and putting the lives of many Nigerians at risk.
Nigeria’s preparedness for the present outbreak
Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole said: “What we will do is to set up an emergency operation center which will be chaired by Dr. Babasanya who actually led our efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone and Guinea during the outbreak in 2014.
“Not only that, we will be screening incoming passengers, particularly passengers from DRC and neigbouring countries. We will also ensure we step up all activities screening people coming in so that we will not be caught unawares,” he stated.
He said the Nigerian Center for Disease Control would also consider sending some team to Congo “as part of building capacity for managing the outbreak.”
Adewole assured Nigerians that the Federal Government was concerned about the outbreak and would do everything possible to keep the country safe.