…As Ebola’s threat hangs in the air
The strike declared by the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) in the past four weeks has crippled care services in many public hospitals across the federation, leaving patients groaning. A quick resolution of the differences between JOHESU and the medical doctors will restore needed services and help strengthen surveillance so as to ward off threats from Ebola. APPOLONIA ADEYEMI reports
Wednesday 16 May, was exactly one month when health workers under the auspices of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) embarked on indefinite strike, which has paralysed public health facilities across the federation, leaving thousands of sick Nigerians on admission and those seeking out-patient services stranded. As at the time of filing this report, NewTelegraph investigations showed that people who are ill and cannot afford to pay for care in private hospitals have been left to their fate.
Based on the development, from Lagos to Ibadan in the west to Port-Harcourt in the south-south, to the north east and north west, public hospital services are nothing to write home about.
A visit to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idiaraba on Monday showed that the out-patient waiting areas, where crowds of patients used to take turns to see doctors, were deserted.
However, a few doctors were on ground attending to a some patients who were rushed in on emergency. Most were seen without the regular case notes as all record officers who were supposed to hand in the patients’ case notes were on strike.
At the wards, the story was not different. As at Monday, a reliable source told the New Telegraph that at the 761-bed LUTH, only 70 patients were remaining in the hospitals. “All patients have been discharged following the strike action,” the source added.
Although, some discharged patients resorted to seeking care in private hospitals, some that cannot afford to huge bills the private sector charged were taken back home to ‘die’.
It will be recalled that the national body of JOHESU declared the strike on midnight of Tuesday, April 17, after its efforts to get the Federal Government meet its demand failed, hence, prompting about 90 per cent of the health workforce, all of whom are members of JOHESU to proceed on the strike.
Among health workers that embarked on the strike are nurses, medical laboratory scientists, pharmacists, record officers, physiotherapists, among others.
JOHESU members include five registered associations including the Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutes (SSAUTHRIA), Nigerian Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), the Non Academic Staff Unions (NASU), Medical and Health Workers Union (NHWU) and the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Workers (NUAHP), the five of which have formed JOHESU, a pressure group.
The health workers are demanding the implementation of the adjusted Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS), the payment of specialist allowances to deserving health professionals, payment of arrears of the skipping of CONHESS 10, the increase of age of health workers from 60 to 65 and the review of the composition of the Boards of Federal Health Institutions (FHIs), among others.
Of more concern however is that since the strike began, efforts to get the Federal Government accede to the demands of JOHESU members have not yielded positively, prompting the national leadership of JOHESU to direct state branches of their unions to join the strike.
This prompted many state branches including the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) and other state hospitals across the federation to join the strike.
Similarly, at this time that public hospitals are operating skeletal activities, the World Health Organisation (WHO) last week classified Nigeria and other countries in the African region to be at moderate risk of spreading the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). This is against the background of new Ebola outbreak in the DR Congo, which has resulted in 19 deaths and 39 suspected cases since April 4.
Presently, WHO stated that 393 people who were identified as contacts of Ebola patients in Congo DR Congo, were being followed up.
Although, the Federal Government last week directed the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) to step up surveillance activities against Ebola at the ports, the fact remains that the current state of the public hospitals is an indication that the nation was truly exposed to the risk of Ebola.
To prevent an outbreak of Ebola in Nigeria, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) presented a public health advisory to the general public last week, urging Nigerians to adhere to strict hygiene rules.
The NCDC urged Nigeians to wash their hands frequently, using soap and water, adding, “use hand sanitizers when soap and water is not readily available. Avoid direct handling of dead wild animals.
“Avoid physical contact with anyone who has possible symptoms of an infection with an unknown diagnosis and make sure fruit and vegetables are properly washed and peeled before you eat them”
The main challenge hindering breakthrough in the several meetings the Federal Government has been having with the leadership of JOHESU, is the exact financial implications for the adjusted CONHESS.
The government and JOHESU have not reached agreement on how much should accrue to health workers if the adjusted CONHESS is implemented.
National Vice Chairman of JOHESU, Dr. Ogbonna Obinna said although, the calculations of the Salaries and Wages Commission initially was that N22.6 billion should be paid to the health workers per annum.
However, the Federal Government rejected the figure on the excuse that it was bogus and that it did not have resources to pay such money.
Obinna said, “JOHESU has resolved that the meeting cannot be endless. We need Nigerians to know that the minister of health was protecting his own professional colleagues.”
On what JOHESU will do, he said since the government has refused to move from its initial position. Hence, “JOHESU, too will continue with the strike until the union has reached an acceptable conclusion.
“We had already negotiated in 2017 and have reached an acceptable agreement called terms of settlement.
“Then the government said it would implement all that we had signed within weeks, but this is the seventh month after.
“Even the flagship demand which is the adjusted CONHESS has not been implemented.”
To show commitment, Obinna urged the Federal government to implement the adjusted CONHES, saying, “we would give it time to implement the other 14 demands in phases.”
Responding to claims that the fund required to implement the adjusted CONHESS was huge, Obinna said JOHESU already gave the government a leeway considering the way it adjusted the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) for the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).
He said if the government released two months of the adjusted CONHESS as a demonstration of its commitment, JOHESU would be ready to call off the strike while giving the government time to continue with phased implementation of the CONHESS and other demands.
Reacting to the development, the President of the NMA, Dr. Francis Faduyile, last week warned the Federal Government against acceding to the demands of JOHESU.
He stressed that relativity on issue of welfare for doctors was sacrosanct. “We are not opposed to others asking for salary increment, but if you increase their salary because of a ratio, that had been blunted before the Federal Government adjusted the salary of medical doctors, please do the same across board.”
“By the time health workers said that they want to collect the same amount, the same baseline at the same level with medical doctors, we will say no,” Faduyile added.
According to him, “There are specifications for different jobs and it is important for us to know that there is no single person in the health team that is not important. We appreciate what health workers do.”
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