The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has called on the National Assembly to ban public officials from seeking medical treatment abroad.
Leaders of the association made the call at the onset of their nationwide strike on Thursday, three days after President Muhammadu Buhari travelled to London for a medical check-up.
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President of NARD, Dr Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, made the call on the urgent need to ban officials from traveling abroad for medical purposes during an interview with Daily Trust in Abuja.
He said doing so will bring the desired improvement in the country’s health sector and also save the lives of millions of poor Nigerians who do not have the means of traveling abroad to attend to their health challenges.
Dr Okhuaihesuyi said: “If medical tourism is banned in Nigeria, it will encourage the public officials to be able to develop the health system in the country.”
Asked if that would not put many lives at risk considering the poor state of the country’s health system, and the fact that many people who embark on medical tourism do so for serious and chronic diseases such as kidney, cancer and heart diseases, among others, he said: “We have one of the best set of health workers in the world, and that is why most countries tend to scavenge on doctors in Nigeria.
“What the government needs to do is to make the hospital functional, provide equipment such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), CT Scan, radiotherapy machines, and to make their lives comfortable. Nigerians will not need to travel anywhere,” he added.
He said if the N576 billion being spent on medical tourism is deployed in renovating health infrastructure and improving service delivery, the country’s health sector would be better for it. “There is a need for government to make health a priority,” he said.
Nigeria is estimated to lose over $ 1 billion dollars to medical tourism annually. The amount many times exceeded the total amount allocated to the health sector in yearly budgets in the country.
Many Nigerians who travel out of the country for their medical needs often have to go back monthly for check-ups and sometimes for corrective surgery.
However, medical tourism witnessed a decline in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and due to the closure of international borders.
During the period, many Nigerians including public office holders were forced to access care in Nigerian hospitals for some months.
What the doctors want
The resident doctors started an indefinite nationwide strike action on Thursday, April 1, because of the failure of the government to meet their demands. Their union had earlier given the government an ultimatum on Sunday that elapsed on Wednesday.
The demands of the association include immediate payment of all salaries owed to all house officers including March salaries (regardless of quota system) before the end of business on March 31. Other demands are: “Immediate payment of all salary arrears including March salaries for our members in all Federal (GIFMIS platform) and State Tertiary Health Institutions across the country especially Anambra State University Teaching Hospital, Awka (ASUTH), Imo State University Teaching Hospital, Orlu (IMSUTH) and University of Medical Sciences Teaching Hospital (UNIMEDTH).”
The resident doctors also want an upward review of the current hazard allowance to 50% of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of the outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance especially in state-owned-tertiary Institutions.
The resident doctors equally called for the sack of the Registrar of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) for failure to demonstrate competence in the handling of the central placement of house officers.
“This will give room for smooth implementation of the central placement of house officers without further delays,” the association said.
Patients relocate to state, private hospitals in Kano
In Kano, patients have vacated federal government hospitals to state-owned hospitals.
Also, relatives that have the wherewithal are relocating their patients to private hospitals to get proper care.
When Daily Trust visited the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), which is owned by the federal government, our reporter saw a young girl that was said to have swallowed an object and needed urgent medical attention left stranded and her caregivers were looking for an alternative.
Amina Muhammad was seen trying to move out her daughter from her sickbed to a private hospital.
“As you see me now, I have packed my things to move out from the hospital. We don’t know when the strike would be called off,” she said. Malam Abubakar Usman, who was moving out his son from the hospital, asked if our reporter could assist him in conveying them to a nearby hospital saying they came from Saminaka in Kaduna State and do not have any relatives nearby.
However, it was gathered that some patients who were on admission were being attended to by nurses and midwives who offer skeletal services on minor health issues. Mrs Hauwa Yusuf, who is scheduled to have a caesarean section on April 9, at AKTH, told Daily Trust that her doctor advised her to pray for the early resolution of the strike.
A resident doctor at the hospital, who preferred not to be named, told Daily Trust that the strike was still too early to have any negative impact on patients.
He said, “We will still take emergency cases and the clinic will still be open, the only thing is that there will be no elective surgeries for anyone”.
“The aim is not to punish our fellow Nigerians, the aim is to have our demands met and the earlier federal government meets our needs, the better for everyone.”
However, Daily Trust reports that most of the hospitals under the control of Kano State Government, such as Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital and Abdullahi Wase Specialists Hospital, are offering full services to patients.
Skeletal services at UPTH, JUTH
There were skeletal services at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH).
Some of the patients that spoke with our reporter said that they were attended to by some doctors who they said rendered services to them out of sympathy.
A patient, who gave his name as Buchi, said that he was attended to by a doctor who was sympathetic of his condition.
“I came to the hospital in the morning without knowing that the doctors were on strike but we waited for some time before a doctor attended to a few of us. Those who were not lucky enough went back home without seeing a doctor,” he said.
In Plateau State, resident doctors at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) have complied with the directive of the strike action as observed by our correspondent. It was gathered only consultants were attending to patients.
A caregiver told Daily Trust that some doctors had attended to patients despite the on-going strike by the resident doctors.
It was also observed that the hospital was not as busy as before.
Fear grips patients in Kaduna
Daily Trust visited General Hospital Dantsoho, in Tudun Wada, Kaduna, where patients expressed fear over the strike.
Although it was observed that patients were attended to by the doctors on duty, some of the patients interviewed at the hospital premises said they were worried because if the strike commenced fully it will cripple activities in the hospital and by extension put the lives of patients in danger. Patients were seen at different sections of the hospital waiting on queue waiting to see doctors as nurses and other staff members of the hospitals were discharging their responsibilities.
A teacher who accompanied his wife to see a doctor at the hospital told Daily Trust that the doctors were at their duty post.
Another woman that was sitting in the corridor beside the theatre room at the hospital also confirmed that there were doctors on duty.
“In fact, they even performed surgery on some patients which I saw being brought out of the theatre room,” she said.
Services grounded in Ibadan
Activities were paralysed at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan.
Our Correspondent reports that the water scarcity in the hospital persisted as many patients resulted to sachet water for survival.
The President, ARD, UCH, Dr. Temitope Hussain, who disclosed this during an interview with journalists, stated that the management of the teaching hospital reached out to the association to offer skeletal services. The association, he said, insisted on a total and indefinite strike to press home their demands.
“We hope that government will accede to our demands so that we can call the strike off,” he said.
Resident doctors at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) have also joined the strike. According to the LASUTH’s ARD President, Dr Ojekunle Azeez, the resident doctors in Lagos joined the strike due to several reasons. He noted that some members in Abia, Imo and other states were being owed salaries.
“Other reasons we joined the strike was due to lack of the implementation of the Medical Residency Training Act that has been passed into law since 2017 at the federal level, but it has not been implemented in Lagos. Also, we want the recruitment of more resident doctors and house officers. Apart from that, we want our hazard allowance to be increased from N5, 000 to 50 per cent of the consolidated salary.
“Like our name implies, as resident doctors, we should be based in the hospital but the available accommodations is only for house officers and it is insufficient. There is no provision for accommodation for resident doctors who sometimes travel from a far distance such as Ikorodu to Ikeja and this affects emergencies,” he said.
Doctors under Borno govt boycott strike
A nurse at the Borno State Specialist, Hospital, Maiduguri, said normal activities including operations were being carried out as usual because resident doctors there had not joined the nationwide strike.
The nurse further said patients from the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital where doctors went on strike were being referred there.
A source at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Maiduguri, said consultants were attending to patients as a result of the strike.
Doctors on duty in Anambra
Residents Doctors at Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Teaching Hospital, Amaku, Awka, Anambra State, are yet to join the industrial action ordered by the national body.
Our correspondent who visited the hospital observed that normal activities were ongoing as nurses and doctors were attending to patients.
One of the nurses, who spoke to Daily Trust on the condition of anonymity, said that the doctors went to the hospital yesterday and attended to patients.
“If the resident doctors elsewhere are on strike we don’t know, maybe the doctors here will join the strike tomorrow,” she said. When contacted, the immediate past chairman of doctors at the hospital, Dr Obinna Aniagboso, said that the strike compliance was partial because the contentious issues had to do with doctors working in federal government hospitals.
We’ll meet their demands – Health minister
The Minister of State for Health, Sen Olorunimbe Mamora, on Thursday, appealed to resident doctors to bear with the government.
Speaking in Lagos during the Commissioning of a modular theatre and amenity ward at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Mamora stated, “We appreciate what the issues are and we are doing everything that needs to be done to ensure their welfare as well as address the issues raised.
“Everything in that regard is being done and we believe we will resolve the issues and continue to work together in the interest of Nigerians.
“People graduate from medical school and they do not have placement for their housemanship. In order to forestall the situation, the government decided to place them centrally through the medical and dental council of Nigeria. In order to do that, there is a need to collate the figures from the various institutions.
“There was a delay in terms of alignment between the higher institutions and the council. That is one of the things that is being sorted out. The resident doctors formed a critical number of doctors in the hospitals across the country, caring for patients and the government is paying for it.
“The post medical training programme is free and it cost a lot of money. As for the hazard allowance, we promised them that when the situation of COVID-19 subsides, we will renegotiate with them,” he said.