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Published On: Wed, Mar 19th, 2014

Kaduna health workers strike: Women now deliver babies at home

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nigeria minister of healthFrom Muhammad Ibrahim, Kaduna

Malama Indo (not her real name), lives in a suburb community of Kaduna state called Unguwar Sanusi; she was nine months pregnant and in labour for her third child.

According to her, she always attend anti-natal care at a Model Primary health care in the area, but due to the on-going strike of member of Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), Kaduna branch union, she was unable to go to the centre to deliver.

Instead, a traditional birth attendant (ungozoma) was called to assist her deliver her baby because her husband could not afford to take her to a private hospital. After a long and protracted labour she was fortunate to give birth to a set of twins, all boys, in her living room.

Malama Tani (also not her real name) gave birth to a bouncing baby girl inside her room at a nearby community because the state-owned hospitals and Primary Health Care centers were shut down due to the on-going strike across the state.

But she was not as lucky as Indo, because in her case, her husband had to rush her to a private hospital to save her life because she lost plenty of blood after delivering.

These two women’s cases are just few out of hundreds of women that now give birth at home, not because they want to but because the hospitals, particularly state-owned, are closed down due to the on-going strike.

The strike, which commenced two weeks ago, has greatly or is still affecting the health sector in Kaduna state, as most of the hospitals visited were empty with most of the patients moved to private hospitals and those whose relations could not afford it were moved back to their homes to wait for the time the strike will end.

A visit to one of the biggest state-owned hospital, the Yusuf Dan-Tsoho Hospital, which is located in Tudun Wada, was looking like a ghost town as the place was almost totally deserted. Only private security guards, goats, chickens were seen within the premises.

Most of the offices, including the delivering room, were all deserted. The only patients still in the hospital were those in the emergency unit, who are mostly accident victims and whose relations could not afford moving them to another hospital.

34 year-old Daniel Joshua has been in the accident unit of the hospital since January 2014, after he got involved in an accident in which he sustained a fracture in his left leg.

According to him, he were supposed to undergo a surgery a day before the strike commenced, but that couldn’t hold because of the strike.

“I was supposed to undergo a surgery a day before the workers embarked on the strike and up till now I am still waiting for them to call off the strike. Honestly, it has not been easy because the doctors only visit once in a while to check on us,” he lamented.

He pleaded with the state government to find a lasting solution to the strike so that the workers can return to work.

His mother, who was seen sitting close to him at the hospital, also pleaded with the state government to come to their aid by reaching an agreement with the nurses union.

“We are very much disturbed with the strike; please help us tell government to settle with the union so that our children can get cured. Those whose condition is critical are still here, not because they want to but because we cannot afford going to private hospital,” she said.

It was gathered that people were brought to the hospital on a daily basis but were turned away because there was nobody to take care of them or examine them.

The same story was reported at a Model Primary School Health Care Centre, Unguwar Sanusi, where people, particularly women, attend anti-natal and post-natal care.

A security guard, who does not want his name mentioned, said ever since the strike began many sick people that came to the hospital were turned back.”Since the strike began, patients were turned back each time they were brought to the centre because there was nobody to take care of them.

“In fact, women in labour are brought here but we have to turn them back. The whole situation is sad and we think the government needs to do something about it fast,” he said.

According to the old man, government should address the plight of the common people, particularly pregnant women, who are now delivering their babies at home.

Another resident of Unguwar Sarki, a former Councilor in the area, Alhaji Muhammad Sani Hamza said the model Primary Care Centre was established as a referring Health Center.

He explained that the Model Health Primary Centre served communities like Baddiko, Hayin dan Mani, Sabon-Gari, Unguwar Sanusi among others.

“The state government needs to take measures to reduce the suffering of the ordinary people, by engaging some non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to help the patients at the hospital pending when the strike ends. These are how things were done in the past,” he said.

Similar pathetic tales were coming from other hospitals within the state metropolis; for instance, Gwamna Awon hospital, Kakuri was also deserted by patients; ditto with Barau Dikko Hospital.

The health workers, union, which embarked on an indefinite strike on Saturday March1, to demand for the consolidated health salary structure of their members which the state government failed to pay, stayed away from their duty posts.

The state chairperson of the union, Comrade Cecilia Musa was quoted to have said, at a press conference, that the strike became necessary as all efforts to make the state government fulfill its promises in that regard was not successful.

The chairperson also lamented the lackadaisical attitude of the state government towards the health sector, saying presently, the sector suffered shortage of health workers operating in state-owned hospitals.

“The situation is pathetic, because according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one nurse is supposed to attend to six patients; but as it is today, in Kaduna, a nurse takes care of 30-40 patients a day, leading to stress among most of the health workers in the state.

“There is need for urgent employment of health workers in the state or else the sector will crash, because of mass retirement and movement of staff to other states where the CONHESS is paid,” she said.

According to her, the union believes that strike action cannot provide the solution to the problem and they believe dialogue should always be a solution to any problem.

“We are in a civilized world, which was why the union gave the state government a month to solve the problem in the past meetings we had with them, but since they refused to fulfill their promise we are left with no option than to embark on the strike,” she added.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), which is the national umbrella body, on Friday, March 14, after a meeting with leaders of the health workers, threw their support behind the strike, as they urged them to continue until the state governor responded to their demands.

Efforts to reach the state Commissioner of Health on the issue proved abortive as his phone was switched off. However, the state governor, Muktar Ramalan Yero was quoted to have also pleaded with the workers to return to work as, according to him, government is trying its best to look for a solution. But his plea fell on deaf ears.

So, while the state government and the union are yet to reach an agreement to end the stand-off, an NGO, Coalition Maternal and Child Health, Civil Society (MCH-CS) partnership, has expressed worry as the country ranks 9th worst in the world on issues related to women, especially maternal health.

The group said Kaduna state, where the health sector is presently suffering, especially maternal health, which according to them, is receiving inadequate funding, noting that in the 2008 Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS), many of the indicators assessing the strength of maternal and child health care in Kaduna are weak.

“For instance, only 18.4% of pregnant women delivered in a health care facility while 79.9% delivered at home; 21.8% of live births were delivered by a skilled provider, and 54.5% did not receive any post-natal care,” the group said.

With such a revelation, it means the state government has to rise up to the challenge to end the strike by the health workers because the issue of maternal mortality is of great concern to many and with the on-going strike only God knows the number of women and babies that may die as a result .

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