NIGERIA’S HEALTH SECTOR: THE FACTUAL, THE CHALLENGES, AND THE NARRATIVES
Over the years, the nation’s entire health system is under massive degradation with various controversies and challenges bedeviling a system that is supposed to be indispensable and indisposable, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the lapses of the Nigerian Government for years of the health system’s decline.
Foreign countries have become a better option for the over 72,000 medical doctors in Nigeria.
Recall that on July 10th, 2020, the Nigerian Immigration Service stopped 58 Nigerian Medical doctors from travelling to the UK.
12 Nigerian doctors are employed in the UK every week making them the fourth highest in the UK, according to the BBC.
Despite the obvious and blatant rot happening to the country’s health system, Chris Ngige, a medical doctor and Nigeria’s minister of labour, claimed in a TV interview in April 2019, that the country has more than enough doctors to meet the needs of its nearly 200 million citizens, and that doctors who wanted to travel out are free - an obvious lie.
The Minister’s statement is painful, however, it shows how far Nigeria’s top officials are from reality.
Also, on June 17th, 2020, Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, said the Federal Government was going to sack resident doctors who are on strike. The Minister also said he is unaware of Nigeria’s health challenges.
CORONAVIRUS A LEVELER
As the Coronavirus Pandemic in Nigeria intensifies with a surge in the number of cases in all 36 States of the Federation including the FCT, the importance of health workers, particularly medical doctors, in our society has been emphasized.
The advent of the pandemic has forced the Federal Government to face healthcare systems they have failed to develop. It is very common for leaders in this part of the world to travel out of the country at every slight challenge in their health.
African leaders have perpetually abandoned their country’s health sectors. Recall that in 2001, the presidents of 52 African countries met in Abuja and agreed to spend 15 percent of their yearly domestic budget on the health sector.
Recall that the core of President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign in 2015 was that Government officials were not going to travel out of the country for medical check ups.
However, it is pertinent to note that Nigeria’s incumbent President was in the UK for several months in 2017 for treatment of an undisclosed illness and has had frequent checks abroad since he resumed office in 2015.
He has embarked on at least four medical trips to the UK, despite spending billions of Naira on the Aso Rock hospital.
The deaths of former Governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi, and Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, due to COVID-19 complications, is attestation of the decadence in Nigeria’s healthcare system as these ‘dignitaries’ would have been jetted out of the country for treatment.
But with flights grounded in the past four months and countries across the world on lockdown in recent weeks in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, these leaders are getting a wake-up call that they must fix their healthcare systems.
Furthermore, Doctors in Nigeria are also at high risk of contracting COVID-19, with the NCDC stating that 812 doctors have been infected with COVID-19 as at June 2nd, 2020.
NIGERIAN DOCTORS ARE FIGHTING BACK
Due to the Government’s negligence and refusal to pay salaries, hazard allowances, and provide the health workers with sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), medical doctors and health workers in almost all States of the federation have been embarking on various industrial actions.
The rise in strike actions in the nation’s health system is worrisome with Doctors in Lagos commencing a warning strike on July 13th despite the State being the country’s infection epicentre.
On July 7th, 2020, doctors in Ondo also commenced their strike action. It is pertinent to note that the Medical Staff at the Federal Medical Centre, Lokoja, Kogi State, also embarked on a strike at the beginning of this month.
Also, on June 15th, 2020, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) also embarked on a nationwide industrial strike. This comes two weeks after Medical Doctors in Delta also embarked on an industrial strike action.
Resident Doctors in Ogun State also embarked on their industrial strike action on May 3rd, 2020.
In addition, in the middle of this pandemic, on May 25th, 2020, nurses at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) withdrew their services and abandoned COVID-19 patients at the isolation facility as a result of inadequate provision of PPEs, and proper welfare packages from the State Government.