By Iliya Kure
A strike by health workers has left public hospitals in Nigeria closed, denying citizens access to basic health care services – this has paralyzed and compounded challenges to the fragile health system in Africa’s biggest economy.
The strike is by a union comprising of Pharmacists, radiotherapists, medical record officers and other cadre of health workers in the federal and state government owned hospitals
In hospitals, in both cities and villages, the sick were not attended to, no matter the condition of illness of the person visiting the hospital.
People at the villages suffer the most, because the rural areas hardly have the presence of private/commercial health services available.
Nigeria has the highest cases of polio in the world. It also records the second highest cases of maternal deaths; only next to India.
The workers commenced the strike on 6th November 2014 on reasons related to their salaries and allowances.
They are also against government actions of not appointing their members into key positions in hospitals and their non-promotion to the position of consultants – a privilege that medical doctors enjoy.
A citizen, Arinze Amos is worried that the strike has lasted long, calling on concerned authorities to meet with the union leaders to sort out issues at stake.
Amos said, “Government must sit down with these medical workers to find a lasting solution to the problem of incessant strike in the country’s health sector. In fact, we are now afraid that because of the coming general elections, government officials may not have time to meet with the striking health workers.”
The Government has appealed for calm, but it said the issues raised by the heath workers were not so strong to warrant a strike action.
An official of Nigeria’s Health Ministry, Dr. Taiwo Lateef Shiekh said, “Government believes that all the issues will be resolved in a short period of time and has directed all the Tertiary Hospitals to continue to render services to Nigerians, and must not allow anybody to turn the patients back from the Hospitals.”
The statement is coming on the heel of striking workers who stand by the gate of hospitals and ask sick persons to go back home. The government has also issued out a ‘No Work, No Pay Rule’ to workers of the Tertiary Hospitals.
Nevertheless, Nigeria has only 53 tertiary hospitals, all located in the state capitals, and cannot meet the needs of its teeming populace of over 160 million citizens.
Dr. Sheikh also called on the striking union workers to kindly return to work, adding that before the commencement of the strike, government had set-up a Presidential Committee of Experts on Inter-Professional Relationships in the Public Health Sector to address the concerns raised by the striking health workers.
Felix Faniran, President of Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals, an affiliate of the striking union, said the strike would continue due to the failure of the Federal Government to meet their demands.
Faniran told reporters “We have been overly patient, but long suffering has its limits. We have now arrived at a decision. This industrial action is indefinite and it will not end until the authorities meet our demands.
The members had embarked on fasting and prayers on 20th of January 2015 for God to intervene on their behalf.