Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Lagos doctors’ strike

Medical doctors in the employ of the Lagos State Government, under the umbrella body of the Medical Guild, have suspended for 90 days the strike embarked upon last week to press home their demand for good condition of service and the provision of basic infrastructure for good health care delivery in the state.

The doctors have explained that the strike was suspended as a result of the intervention of well meaning Lagosians and Nigerians.
The strike came at the expiration of a 21-day ultimatum given the government to address the doctors’ grievances. In the three days the strike lasted, activities in Lagos State owned medical facilities were grounded to a halt.

However, a few Consultants, Heads of Departments and nurses provided skeletal medical services.

In suspending the strike, the aggrieved doctors have given the state government a period of 90 days (three months) to fulfill its promise of implementing their demands. According to the secretary of the Medical Guild, Dr. Maruf Agara, the doctors would reconvene at the end of the 90 days to review the situation.
The doctors’ recourse to the industrial action is predicated on the alleged loopholes in hospital administration in the state. They include the welfare of doctors, poor salaries and non-payment of salary arrears since January 2007 and the lack of basic infrastructure in the state health care system. For instance, the doctors alleged that patients die daily at the state hospitals because of lack of basic life-saving facilities. Most basic hospital equipment like ambu-bags, oxygen cylinder and suction machines are lacking in the hospitals.

Apart from the poor state of the hospitals, the doctors are demanding a pay rise and parity as contained in the recommendations of the Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Scale.

We commend the doctors for suspending the strike and call on the Lagos State government to address most of the demands that impinge on good health delivery system in the state. A situation where doctors work under excruciating conditions like lack of basic health equipment is unacceptable in Nigeria of the 21st century. The government must use the 90 days of grace period to address the lapses in its health system as well as put doctors on the agreed salary scale and pay them all owed arrears. We say this because the health of the citizens can neither be toyed with nor politicized.

Since the work of doctors touch on people’s lives, government must ensure that they have the basic necessities that would make them function effectively. Health, they say is wealth. It is therefore important that government should not wait for doctors to embark on strike before upgrading the facilities in its hospitals.

We also urge the doctors to be reluctant in going on strike, irrespective of the justifiability of their cause, considering the fact that their jobs save lives. Doctors should also be mindful of the Hippocratic oath, which places human life above all other considerations. And each time doctors embark on strike some lives are lost. Such avoidable losses cannot be replaced. The nature of the their jobs demands a different approach to strike. Let the doctors see strike as the very last option when all avenues to resolve the issues at stake have failed.

At the heart of the recent strike is the recurring issue of poor funding in our health system. There is the need for all tiers of government to stop paying lip service to health issues. Government should increase its health funding to keep our hospitals at acceptable world standard.

The nation’s annual allocation to health always falls short of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 15 percent of the total annual budget. All indices of health show that the county is not fairing well. At moment, the country’s health system ranks 187th out of 191 member nations of WHO. Life expectancy stands at 44 years. The infant mortality is still at 103 per 1,000 live births while maternal mortality is 800 per 100,000 live births. Let government ensure that all citizens have access to quality and affordable health as guaranteed by the constitution.