Health services at most medical facilities were on Monday crippled as a result of the nationwide strike embarked upon by members of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU).
The Federal Medical Centre (FMC) in Makurdi at Apir, Benue State, was not spared as services like emergency surgeries could not be carried out due to lack of support staff like nurses to handle services at the theatre.
The hospitals were unable to discharge patients at the wards, just as the situation was made worse by their inability to admit new patients.
Most of the departments, among them the General Out-Patient Department (GOPD), medical ward, gynaecology section, as well as the children’s ward were all deserted.
A few doctors were seen around offering skeletal services to patients; they could not, however, cope due to the surge in the number of outpatients.
Speaking to newsmen at the FMC, Makurdi, Dr. Enye Agada, Head, Clinical Services, who described the strike as unfortunate, also lamented that the strike had rendered the hospital epileptic.
According to her, “It is unfortunate that the JOHESU strike has commenced; only the doctors are not on strike; supporting staff are lacking and we work as a team and when part of that team is not there things may not work optimally and that’s the situation we are facing now.
“Doctors at the FMC Apir station, right from consultants to resident doctors and then to the house officers, were directed to be at work, but things – like emergency surgeries – may not be obtainable now, because they need the support of nurses to handle the theatre.
“The GOPD is running skeletal services, the Accident and Emergency (A&E) section is running only emergency situations, and emergency surgeries will be difficult to manage now.”
Similarly, activities at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital (NAUTH), Nnewi, Anambra State, were paralysed as the local chapter of the Joint Health Sector Unions began its seven-day warning strike over the non-payment of COVID-19 hazard allowance.
Chairman of the NAUTH chapter, Ikenna Anahalu, said despite the agreement reached with the Federal Government that only some members of the unions were paid 10 percent instead of the agreed 50 percent while many were not paid anything.
Anahalu, who addressed journalists with his secretary, Charles Nwoye, also had the chairmen of other units in the union, including Ozoemena Obiora, the public relations officer; Edochie Peter of JOHESU, and Nwobodo Hygenius, the treasurer.
The union leaders said there was preferential treatment in the handling of issues that affected the workers’ well-being.
They vowed that they would rather go to prison than return to their duty posts until government paid every kobo owed them.
They insisted that the Federal Government must release funds to pay the arrears of differentials for 2015, 2016, and 2017 promotion allowances to their members.
They complained that payments for April and May 2018 were still withheld, and said that government had to pay up.
Also, the JOHESU of Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri, Imo State, joined the national body on Monday for the seven-day warning strike.
The declaration of the strike by the chairman of JOHESU, Comrade Clifford Ezeugwu, at the Multipurpose Hall of the centre at about 11:57a.m was in line with the agitation of the national body.
Declaring the strike, the JOHESU public relations officer, Comrade (Dr.) Solomon Nwafuru, who spoke for the chairman, outlined non-payment of shortfall arising from the implementation of COVID-19 special inducement and allowances, non-payment of all withheld salaries of members at the Jos University Teaching Hospital, FMC Owerri, and the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, including April and May 2018 salaries, adjustment of CONHESS salary structure, and implementation of Alternative Dispute Resolution consent judgment as some of the major reasons for the strike.
He said: “JOHESU reiterates its commitment to continue to work with the Federal Government, FMC, Owerri, and all stakeholders in its bid to improve the ailing and overstretched health system with necessary reforms in public interest.
“We are not interested in sacking any of us but any JOHESU member we see working during the specified time of strike will have himself or herself to blame.”
Healthcare workers at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, on Monday, joined the nationwide strike called by JOHESU.
Many essential places in the hospital, including the pharmacy, the medical records section and two of the main gates into the hospital were locked.
The JOHESU Chairman, UCH Chapter, Mr. Adeolu Alli, said the strike became imperative after “a long period” — three years of waiting on the Federal Government.
He said that the government has seemingly taken the patience of the striking workers for granted.
“We are on strike at the moment and our members have gone home.
“The level of compliance is almost 98 percent. The government must meet our demands.”
The story is the same in most health facilities in the country, according to our correspondents.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has appealed to JOHESU to suspend the one-week warning strike nationwide.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, made the appeal on Monday during the briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 in Abuja.
“I use this opportunity to appeal to JOHESU to suspend their strike and go into negotiation.
“The position of the Ministry of Health is that strikes by healthcare workers jeopardise the lives of citizens, especially at such times of global health emergencies as now.
“Nigeria needs the service of all our health workers to control the spread of COVID-19. Issues around allowances are multi-sectoral and have always been served with negotiations no matter how long it took,” he pleaded.
The minister’s plea had come hours after JOHESU President, Dr. Biobelomoye Josiah, asked the Federal Government to attend to its demands with the same seriousness it accorded that of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).
NARD downed tools over same issues but called it off days after coming to an agreement with Federal Government representatives.
JOHESU, which is the umbrella body of health workers’ unions and associations in the country, said its demands merited such urgent attention, too.