The Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) gives its full support and solidarity to the nationwide strike of doctors under the aegis of the National Association of Residents Doctors (NARD) which commenced on Monday 15 June 2020 after the expiration of a 14-day ultimatum.
We call on the government to meet the doctors’ demands immediately and unconditionally. We call on the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), other health care unions as well as the labour centres (NLC, TUC and ULC) to back the doctors’ action and be prepared to engage in solidarity actions to support the struggle.
We also call on NARD not to make the nationwide strike a sit-at-home action. The members of the public who will be the most affected need to be sensitized about why doctors have embarked on this action. Therefore media activities like press conferences, interviews and others should be intensified. Alongside this, socially-distance rallies with all participants wearing facemasks, circulation of leaflets and public demonstration would be required to ensure that the public is well mobilised behind the strike. This is the best approach that can guarantee victory.
We also challenge the NARD not to limit the strike’s demand to issues of PPE, pay and conditions alone even though important for the wellbeing of healthcare workers. As the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed; Nigeria’s health sector is underfunded and lacking necessary equipment and facilities. Consequently, health care lacks quality and standard and in most cases, the cost of health care at government hospitals is unaffordable to a huge percentage of working and poor people. For this reason therefore, we urge the NARD to also demand adequate funding of healthcare as part of a plan for the provision of free, functional and democratically-managed health care system as being demanded by CDWR.
That NARD’s nationwide strike is taking place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which has so far claimed over 400 lives while infecting over 16, 000 is an indictment on President Buhari’s capitalist government. This strike, which is occurring after repeated agitations, warnings and a 14-day ultimatum shows that despite glib promises, the government is still not committed to investing collective resources to reposition the health sector and ensure improved pay and conditions for doctors and other health practitioners.
The strike is predictably about the very same issues which a government that is truly committed to protecting its citizens from a deadly infection ought to have solved without prompting. These issues include: (1) provision of grossly inadequate appropriate Personal Protective Equipment for all health care workers; (2) Immediate reversal of the illegal disengagement of all 26 resident doctors in Jos University Teaching Hospital; (3) payment of all salaries owed them in keeping with provisions of the Medical Residency Training Act (4) Universal implementation of the Medical Residency Training Act in all federal and state hospitals (5) Ensuring pay parity among doctors of equal cadre (6) Immediate implementation of the revised hazard allowance (7) payment of the COVID-19 inducement allowance as agreed with by the Federal Government and health care workers three months ago (8) provision of funding for Medical Residency Training in the 2021 Appropriation bill as well as (9) payment of all arrears owed its members in the federal and state tertiary health institutions, arising from the consequential adjustment of the National Minimum wage.
Following the directive of NARD, all resident doctors, medical officers below the rank of Principal Medical Officer and House officers across all the Federal and State hospitals in Nigeria have withdrawn their services indefinitely. Those on COVID-19 duties or at isolation and treatment centres are exempted by the association reportedly in deference to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and others effort to resolve the dispute. But this reprieve will only last for two weeks. At the end of two weeks, if there is no serious effort to meet the demands, the association has threatened to withdraw all its members from COVID-19 duties.
The immediate implication of this is that working class and poor patients in federal and state hospitals who cannot afford the cost of private hospitals have been condemned to a potentially slow and avoidable death. Unfortunately, the government by its hypocrisy and intransigence forced the doctors to take this course of action. We therefore, reiterate our call on the wider labour movement to back the doctors’ strike while organising solidarity actions to compel the government to meet all demands.