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The absurdity of doctors’ strike

there is even greater consternation that medical doctors under the auspices of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) are still on strike. These are doctors upon…

there is even greater consternation that medical doctors under the auspices of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) are still on strike. These are doctors upon whom the citizens should depend at a time like this. Curiously, one of the reasons for the strike, we understand, is that it has just come to the group in an epiphany that the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria is legally empowered to regulate the in-vitro diagnostics (IVDs) market. Yet this strike and the epiphany that has led to it raise moral and ethical issues concerning professional practice in the country. Granted, any professional group has the constitutional right to press for the welfare of its members, but such a right also comes with responsibilities.
Today, so many citizens are being weighed down by various disease burdens apart from Ebola, which has now brought to the fore the imperative to upscale laboratory services in the country. Some have died because their doctors have become impossible to please, and have altogether arrogated to themselves the right to unilaterally decide what the Federal Government can or cannot do in the health sector. One wrong government pronouncement and they, believing their views to be sacrosanct, would bring the entire health sector to a screeching halt.
What is the wisdom in the gluttonous litany of 24-point demand handed to government by NMA? And they actually insist that the government meets all or they’d persist with the intransigent oversight of the glut of human suffering across the country, a country already battling with decrepit health infrastructure.
Of all the demands that have helped cement the position of NMA as the epitome of human insatiability, the demand for the withdrawal of the CBN circular of April 24, 2014 stands out. The circular had directed importers and distributors of in-vitro diagnostics (IVDs) to get certification from the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN) before bringing those items into the country. For NMA to tie the withdrawal of such a patriotic directive to its strike action is repugnant. If, as the Registrar/CEO, MLSCN, Prof Anthony Emeribe has said on various occasions, “The Law empowers MLSCN to regulate various ramifications of medical laboratory services, including infrastructure, training, processes, products and practice”, what is then the bone of contention here? In any case, empirical data have put the incidence of fake laboratory reagents, kits and equipment in Nigeria at over 60 per cent as against less than 20 per cent for food and drug products. Therefore, those who claim to be fighting on behalf of NAFDAC by urging to inherit the earth instead of focusing on its area of core competence are missing the point.  
The question that well-meaning citizens are asking is what doctors have to lose if there is effective regulation of the IVDs market. Are we missing something here, or are our medical doctors not concerned about the quality of laboratory test results that they receive towards disease management? Prof Emeribe’s call is also worth recalling here: “If all of us – regulators, practitioners, importers, marketers and even patients – join hands in taking on the noble, virtuous and altruistic task of ensuring that only the right, verified and certified IVDs are brought into the country and used in our medical laboratories, quality would soon become the hallmark of health laboratory care in our country.”
One is confident that the government representatives such as the Minister of Health, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu, and his Labour and Productivity counterpart, Chief Emeka Wogu, have the wisdom, technical savvy and intellectual capacity to match the rapacity of NMA and other groups in the health sector who have turned the art of negotiation into a hectic job schedule. One is also hoping that the health minister, having already spoken out about the excesses of his professional colleagues, would guide the government aright and not bow to their whims and caprices.
Nothing in the negotiation between government and NMA should be seen to culminate in the withdrawal of the public-spirited circular issued by CBN in respect of IVDs importation. Doing so will set a “dangerous” precedence capable of demeaning the authority of the federal government.
When Mr President commissioned the government-funded specialized laboratory for the validation and certification of IVDs in 2013, he was convinced that the facility would help ensure that only quality kits, reagents, chemicals and equipment are used in our medical laboratories. His desire was to ensure that henceforth laboratory test results and reports would be reliable and reproducible, thereby making the job of the clinician easier by eliminating symptom-based guesswork in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. The president has done his bit; other stakeholders should now join hands with the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria to transform medical laboratory services. The exodus of our citizens to other countries for medical tourism must be curtailed and foreign exchange saved. How can NMA not appreciate these benefits?
It will be incongruous for a transformational regime, which spent millions of tax-payers’ funds setting up the MLSCN Public Health IVDs Control Laboratory to turn round and shut it down because it is assailed by the epiphany of the NMA leadership.

Ekwebelam, a public commentator, lives in Abuja

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