Health Workers Battle for Supremacy

Rivalry between the Nigerian Medical Association and the Joint Health Sector’s Unions is threatening to put Nigerian health sector in serious crisis

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Jan. 20, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

THE crisis in the Nigerian health sector is far from over. Barely a few days after the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, suspended its planned industrial action, the Joint Health Sectors’ Unions, JOHESU, announced its decision to embark on a five-day warning strike beginning from January 15 to 21. The union, on January 7, directed its members to proceed on a warning strike except the federal government addresses its grievances through constructive dialogue.

The JOHESU, comprising of pharmacists, nurses, physiotherapists, radiographers and laboratory scientists, among others, warned that a dialogue with President Goodluck Jonathan would be the minimum and non-negotiable conditionality for the resolution of the crisis. The union listed its grievance to include approval of consultancy status for some cadre of health workers, payment of specialists and other professional allowances as enjoyed by doctors, call duty/shift allowance, and refusal of Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health, to abide by the ruling of the National Industrial Court in July 2013.

It blamed the NMA and the ministry of health for all lingering problems and disharmony in the health sector, warning that the move to appoint a surgeon-general, to head the health sector, would create more confusion not only in the health system, but among all cadres of workforce in the country. The union accused Chukwu of seeking to institutionalise the professional chauvinism of medical and dental practitioners as against international best practice. The JOHESU also blamed the minister for Nigeria’s poor health indices and inconsistencies in the national health bill.


Olumide Akintayo, spokesperson of the group and president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, PSN, warned: “In the event that government does not enter into meaningful dialogue within two weeks of this notice, we shall be left with no option than to commence a more excruciating and total nationwide strike to enforce our liberties. We call on all men and women of goodwill to admonish government on the need to urgently redress this avoidable crisis it has also assisted to worsen,” he said, adding that one of their latest grievances was the recent approval of the post of the office of a surgeon-general for the federation by President Jonathan.

The JOHESU argued against continued exclusive role of medical practitioners as the chief executive of hospitals and accused the health minister and Osahon Enabulele, NMA, president, of seeking to change the statutory schemes of service and regulatory laws of other health professions in favour of the NMA and the Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association, MDCAN.

Ayuba Wabba, JOHESU chairperson, said that the reactions from both the minister and the NMA towards the crisis in the sector confirmed the argument and position of JOHESU that Chukwu was a minister of doctors rather than the honourable minister of health. Experts in the health sector said that the supremacy struggle was not in accordance with the international best practices. To them, the best practices were the ones recognised by the World Health Organisation, WHO, and practiced in other developed countries.

The WHO defined hospital attendants as all workers in the hospital setting be it medical laboratory scientists, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, among others that attend to the needs of patients or clients. The question is, if the world health governing body sees everyone as performing the same duty of healthcare delivery, why should there be segregation among health workers in Nigeria? Why the disparity in the health institutions?

Eyitayo Lambo, former minister of health, said the crisis in the health sector was regrettable. He said that policy somersaults were responsible for the crisis in the health sector. According to him, any professional could be the minister of health, insisting it was only a strategic management position and not a professional one that place medical doctors as ministers. Lambo noted that other health workers must put their house in order for them to be recognised, insisting that the professional bodies should be complementary and not competitive. “Unfortunately, there is lack of harmony in the health sector which aggravates the poor health indices in the country. There can be no development in the face of rancour, acrimony and hateful relationships as is now witnessed among health workers. This situation is inimical to the development of the health sector and by implication, the development of the nation,” he said.

The current controversy in the health sector has brought to fore, the unhealthy rivalry among the healthcare providers not minding the patient whom they are all out to serve. This has also gone to show that governments at all levels need to ensure the implementation of the approved scheme of service for all cadres in the hospital establishment. This, perhaps, will put an end to industrial disharmony ravaging the health institution.