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Nigerian Doctors' Strike Disrupts Health System Amid Pandemic


FILE - Dr. Ngong Cyprian gets a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at the National hospital in Abuja, Nigeria, March 5, 2021.

Doctors in Nigeria are on strike over unpaid salaries and poor benefits. But the strike by some 40% of the country’s medical workforce comes amid a fresh wave of coronavirus infections, severely straining Nigeria's health care system.

Anabs Sara-Igbe was visiting Abuja's National Hospital for a post-surgery appointment for the second time since the National Association of Resident Doctors, or NARD, began their strike July 2.

The 62-year-old underwent surgery last month to address bleeding in his colon.

He said he was unable to see a doctor during his first visit last week and was hoping to get lucky this time around.

"I did laboratory tests,” he said. “The results were out, but because there were no doctors, I had to wait for a whole week until yesterday when I got there. And I had to wait for a long, long time."

NARD, which represents about 40% of Nigeria’s medical workforce, is protesting unpaid salaries and what the association says are poor working conditions and benefits for its members.

The doctors union is also accusing Nigeria’s health authorities of falling short on promises made earlier this year to meet these demands. Those promises led the group to call off a strike in April after a 10-day walkout.

Nigerian Doctors' Strike Disrupts Health System Amid Pandemic
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Jerry Isogun, secretary general of the association, said their patience is at an end.

"Enough is enough,” he said. “While we understand the peculiarity of the times that we are in, we also know that the same government is attending to other issues. So, we're calling their attention to the health sector. Let us prioritize the health sector.”

However, the latest strike is raising concerns as Nigeria confronts a third wave of the coronavirus, triggered by the deadly delta variant.

Last Wednesday, the country reported more than 700 new cases of the coronavirus — the highest daily rate in many months, signaling a third wave is in full swing.

Health authorities say the strike is ill-timed and will have consequences.

Health board director Ndaeyo Iwot said the medical salary issue is complicated and does not solely rest on health authorities.

"It's just like the minimum wage, because that's how the federal government is looking at it,” he said. “The minimum wage for the federation is so-and-so. So, the states should be able to take that up and pay accordingly. But some states say they don't have the capacity to do so.”

NARD says doctors will remain on strike unless all their demands are met.

Meanwhile this week, the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria, MDCAN, also threatened to go on strike by Monday over remuneration for its members.

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