Doctors End Six-Week Strike

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The Nigerian Medical Association suspends its six-week strike to, among other reasons, allow its members to treat Ebola and Boko Haram insurgency victims

By Chinwe Okafor  |  Aug. 18, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

AFTER a six-week long strike that paralysed health care delivery across the country, reason seems to have prevailed on some members of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA. The association announced on Thursday, August 7, that it had suspended the indefinite strike with immediate effect. In a communiqué issued at the end of its emergency delegates meeting in Abuja, the NMA cited the recent outbreak of Ebola disease as one of the reasons for its decision.

Kayode Obembe, national president of the NMA, who signed the communiqué, the suspension of the strike was also to enable doctors attend to victims of Boko Haram insurgency especially those affected by incessant bombings. Besides, he said, the NMA’s decision was also an acknowledgment of the personal intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan ever since the strike started on July 1. The communiqué also said that the federal government had met most of the association’s 24-point demand and had issued about 10 circulars on the matter in the last one month.

The doctors also noted that the federal government had promised to pay their relativity allowance within the next four working days. The communiqué also took cognizance of the efforts made by the National Assembly-namely the Senate and the House of Representatives, governors, ministers top government officials in resolving the problem. Stated the communiqué: “The pains, pangs, groans and cries of 170 million Nigerians cannot continue to be ignored.”

The decision to suspend the strike did not come easy. According to reports, the decision almost tore the association apart as some of its chapters never favoured the suspension of the strike for whatever reason. For instance, at the Abuja emergency delegates’ meeting, the Lagos State chapter of the NMA was said to have kicked against calling off the strike. But the national executive council of the NMA had to put its feet down and directed the Lagos State chapter to suspend the strike to allow doctors join the state government in combating the Ebola outbreak. It was reported that after an intense discussion which lasted into the small hours of Thursday, the doctors still vowed to continue with the strike although they pledged to do their part in the efforts to curtail the spread of the Ebola virus.

 Signs of an imminent split in the NMA executive became glaring when a press conference scheduled to take place on August 3 was put off for undisclosed reasons. It was later understood that some executives of the association were in disagreement on whether to shelve the strike or not. Sources at the meeting said the NMA leadership was divided on the strike. According to the sources, while some members led by Obembe, were pushing for the suspension of the action, others said they would not support such decision in as much as the federal government had not listened to them.

“If we suspend the action now, the present government and even subsequent governments won’t take us seriously any time we declare a nationwide strike again. That is the major issue, and not any insinuation that somebody has been settled.” Obembe, had a few weeks after his election, linked the strike to the failure of the federal government to address the doctors’ demands, saying there was no going back.

The NMA had sent 24 demands to the government, including discontinuation of recognition of non-medical doctors as directors and consultants. The demands also included the appointment of a Surgeon General of the federation, payment of clinical duty and hazard allowances and withdrawal of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s circular on medical laboratory equipment.

“The NMA is taking this painful route because our silence and gentle approach to these contending issues have been taken for granted. We have to take this action in order to save the health care delivery system from anarchy that is palpably imminent. We hereby appeal to all Nigerians for their understanding and call on government to meet our demands,” he stated.

Obembe had stated that the failure of the government to address the association’s demands had left them with no other option than to call all its members to down tools in order to press home their demands.

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