Between July 13 and 15, doctors from Lagos state, Nigeria embarked on a strike to protest the lack of adequate security and welfare measures for doctors working with COVID-19 patients.
Online newspaper The Premium Times reported that Oluwajimi Sodipo, head of the Lagos Doctors Guild, announced the strike in a report to the press on July 12, protesting inequalities between COVID-risk allocations for doctors. de Lagos and colleagues at federal hospitals.
Doctors working in coronavirus isolation centers in Lagos also lack sufficient personal protective equipment, health insurance, and were also owed two months' salary, Sodipo said. The union exempted doctors working in state isolation centers from joining its collective action.
As of July 21, Nigeria had 37,225 confirmed cases of COVID-19 recorded, 15,333 recovered and 801 deaths. The state of Lagos, the most densely populated state in the country, is the epicenter of the disease, with 13,538 confirmed cases, 1964 recovered and 176 deaths.
On July 13, the Lagos state government asked frontline medical workers to return to work. The doctors suspended their strike on July 16, due to the “positive disposition” shown by the Lagos state government to their requests.
Endless cycle to start again
Nigerian doctors' strike action has become an annual affair in the most populous country in Africa. Their claims are always the same: a request to increase welfare and protection measures so that they can do their job better.
The sequence of the government's response is equally predictable: Initially, it is arbitrary, with threats to fire the striking doctors if they do not return to work. Then they often back off, forcing the government to back down and grant the doctors' orders.
This pattern of events has continued even in the face of a global public health crisis.
In mid-2014, Nigerian resident doctors, undergoing training for specialization, went on strike during the Ebola epidemic over welfare requests. The Nigerian government's response was to terminate their appointments, then downplayed it and blamed the media for not representing the facts well in this matter.
Nigerian Resident doctors @nard_nigeria are starting their strike today, after weeks of trying to get the government to act
Support them, put your tweets where your mouths are
They are the lifeblood of our hospitals, especially for specialized services.
– Femi (@ 0gbeni) June 15, 2020
Nigerian resident doctors from the Nigerian Resident Medical Association are on strike today, after weeks of trying to get the government to act.
Support them, show it with your tweets.
They are vital in our hospitals, especially for their specialized services.
Six years later, on June 15, resident doctors went on strike again during a major public health crisis to protest the poor working conditions and inadequate – or unpaid – security measures provided to those who work with the COVID-19.
On Twitter, medical user Nma Halliday sarcastically compares the ridiculously low monthly health risk allowance given to Nigerian doctors (60,000 naira, about $ 144 a year) to the annual daily allowances and safeguards paid to Nigerian lawmakers, equivalent to 1.2 million naira ($ 3,000) and 1.24 million naira ($ 3,200) respectively:
Before you remind doctors to take quaker oat for breakfast, just remember that the newspaper allowance for the lawmakers is 1.2 million naira & Hardship Allowance is 1.24 million naira.
But a doctor’s hazard allowance with covid19, HIV, Hepatitis B etc is 5,000 naira only🤭 Wawu
– Nma Halliday MD (@nma_halliday) June 20, 2020
Before reminding doctors to eat cereal for breakfast, just remember that the daily allowance for legislators is 1.2 million naira and the safeguard allowance is 1.24 million naira.
But the risk allocation for COVID-19, HIV, hepatitis B, etc. for a doctor it is only 5000 naira.
True to its custom, the government again threatened to fire the doctors to fire the doctors when the negotiations ended in stalemate on June 17. But the doctors resisted intimidation and insisted on his requests. The strike finally ended on June 22, after the intervention of state governors and federal legislators.
Financing controversy for COVID-19
During the COVID-19 crisis in Nigeria, some government funds, allegedly turned over to a university hospital in southwestern Nigeria, became the subject of controversy. What started with a routine press report on the matter quickly degenerated into denials and counter-accusations.
On June 23, Akinola Ojo, health commissioner in Oyo state, southwest Nigeria, announced that the state government had spent 2.7 billion naira ($ 6.9 million) in its fight against COVID-19. According to the financial newspaper BusinessDay, Ojo said that part of the expenses included 118 million naira ($ 304,000) “delivered” to the Ibadán University Hospital “as support”.
But the next day, on the Facebook page of the University Hospital, the hospital denied having received any funding for COVID-19 from the Oyo State Government. Spokesman Toye Akinrinlola suggested that due to the confusion between the names of the Ibadan School of Medicine and the Ibadan University Hospital, the Ibadan School of Medicine probably received government funding.
This suggestion was “emphatically and categorically” rejected by the administration of the Faculty of Medicine, which stated that it had received no funding from the state government.
Although they are separate institutions, both entities are intertwined. The faculty is part of the University of Ibadan, while the Ibadan University Hospital falls under the supervision of the federal Ministry of Health, but students of the Faculty of Medicine and other health specialists from sub-Saharan Africa undertook clinical training at the University Hospital .
On June 24, the Oyo State Government insisted that the funding in question had gone to the virology department of the University Hospital, and described attempts by the hospital management to “ignore” its own clinical virology department, which also offers services of “Teaching and research” to the Faculty of Medicine as “selfish, artificial and derogatory”.
The next day, the press office of the state governor Oyo tweeted the screenshot of a press release in which the head of the Virology Department of the University Hospital acknowledged receiving financial support from the state government for the fight against COVID- 19.
COVID-19: Virology Dept affirms Oyo govt's support, appreciates Makinde
… As govt insists total support to UCH, Virology Dept stand at N118.9m pic.twitter.com/oGZIvjMHGR
– GSM MEDIA OFFICE (@GSMMEDIATEAM) June 25, 2020
COVID-19: Virology Department affirms the support of the Oyo Government, Makinde maintains.
… While the Government insists on its total support for the University Hospital, Virology Department, N118.9m.
History of two test laboratoriesbas
The controversy stems in part from the fact that there are two laboratories approved by the Nigerian Center for Disease Control to perform coronavirus testing in Ibadan, Oyo state: the Laboratory of the Virology Department of the University Hospital, accredited on March 28, and the laboratory of the Biorepository and Clinical Virology of the Faculty of Medicine, approved June 9.
Both laboratories are in the same facilities.
The biorepository laboratory was commissioned on April 17. This molecular pathology laboratory was initially conceived as a tissue bank, and its foray into coronavirus testing seemed to signal internal disputes – possibly a battle for supremacy between the Faculty of Medicine, the University Hospital, and its virology unit.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1zbuvxZLzc (/ embed)
After confirming that the virology department of the University Hospital was the recipient of state government funding, but that the entire process lacked transparency.
The fact that the administration of the University Hospital and the faculty “did not know” the virology department suggests that they were not aware of the funding.
Why did the virology department act independently? In the bank account of which department was the aforementioned donation from the state government deposited? We may not have heard the latest about this controversial donation.
In the final analysis, scenarios like medical strikes and funding meltdowns can reoccur until the cause of the problem – inadequate funding – disappears from Nigeria's public health system.
It is indefensible that doctors and workers in the front line of the pandemic should receive crumbs while politicians who risk little or nothing earn large sums.
Same people that cut the healthcare budget in the middle of a pandemic, and are threatening to sack doctors for going on a strike?
Nigerian politicians are unrepentant money embezzling thieves and not even a public health crisis can change them. Know this and know peace. https://t.co/Xlho01UOLV
– Mmek (@Simmbie) June 18, 2020
The only good thing about COVID-19 is that our politicians will NEVER joke about the country's health care again.
The same people who cut the health budget amid the pandemic are the ones who threaten to fire doctors for going on strike?
Nigerian politicians are unrepentant money-stealing thieves, and not even a public health crisis can change that. Know this and know peace.
It is also indefensible that managers of some public hospitals appear to have no interest in serving the common good, and that they choose to engage in petty rivalries to the detriment of the health of their patients.
Until someone gives in, ordinary Nigerians are at the mercy of a devastating pandemic.