People are seen going into the National hospital after resident doctors commence a doctors strike, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection continues to rise in Abuja
People are seen going into the National hospital after resident doctors commence a doctors strike, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection continues to rise in Abuja, Nigeria June 15, 2020.

A Nigerian doctors union is demanding that the government provide members with more personal protective equipment and hazard pay in treating patients infected with COVID-19, or they will escalate a strike that began Monday, its leader said.  

Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, president of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, said union members now caring for patients in COVID-19 treatment facilities will suspend those duties unless federal and state governments comply with their demands within two weeks.

An undisclosed number of the union’s 5,000 members, who represent at least a third of Nigeria’s physicians, have walked off their jobs at government-run hospitals.

“We cannot continue to let ourselves continue to get infected and continue to die in the absence of necessary personal protective equipment,” Sokomba told VOA when reached by phone Monday in Abuja, the capital. In a separate interview, he described the supply of masks, gloves and other PPE as “grossly inadequate.”

At least 10 doctors have died of COVID-19, the highly contagious disease caused by the coronavirus. Sokomba has expressed concern that an estimated 200 doctors have tested positive for the disease.

Nigeria’s health ministry reported 16,658 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 424 deaths as of Monday, with 573 new confirmed cases that day alone.

FILE - Pedestrians walk past a sign telling residents to call phone numbers if they have symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in Lagos, Nigeria, May 12, 2020.

Residents, who have completed medical school and work under the supervision of senior doctors, provide much of the front-line care, including in emergency rooms, for Nigeria’s 200 million people. The West African country is the continent’s most populous nation.

The Nigeria Center for Disease Control’s director general, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, expressed concern about the strike.

“We need more health workers in the fight,” not fewer, he told Nigeria’s Vanguard news organization.

The residents’ union had threatened the strike over multiple issues, including protection against pay cuts or dismissals in two regions.

Sokomba told VOA that the union also sought life insurance “for all health care workers, so that should anybody fall dead as a result of infection through this COVID-19, the family and next of kin will have something to fall back on.”

The union has been criticized for calling a strike during the pandemic, especially while the federal government and many states are confronting COVID-19-related economic challenges, as well as insecurity because of armed extremist groups.

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