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Published On: Wed, Jul 9th, 2014

Our health sector and the doctors’ strikes

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nigeria minister of healthBy Abdullahi Baba Abdul

Last week, 2nd July to be precise, my opinion featured in one of the daily newspapers. Although I had a different heading for it, the editor of the paper in his wisdom made a slight change. While I called it ‘’Another needless doctors strike ‘’, he christened it “What, another doctors strike? For this reason and for ease of reference to the earlier publication, I am adopting his professional touch to this piece and I thank him for that. Let me, however, apologize to my readers for the few typo and grammatical errors noted after it was sent out. My emotions on the imminent loss of lives couldn’t help me;  I had to throw that piece out without serious censoring owing to the timing of the planned strike, believing it may impress on my colleagues to search for a common ground to address the issues raised  and distilled from the industrial checkmate.

My earlier opinion about this mess that we are going through is what the Yoruba call a fi owofa, meaning, and “self inflicting agony”. Having dwelt much on our actions and inactions that brought us into this mess, I think what best that can be done is to look into how this stalemate can be brought to a final halt, a role no any other institution can assume but the federal government of Nigeria. It is on this premise that I wish to add to the already highly rich and seasoned federal government negotiators to keep at the back of their minds in waging into this crisis. I make bold to say that any attempt to negotiate with the doctors in the absence of other health workers will spell doom for this nation, one can tell from the disposition of the doctors and other health workers, the disharmony in the health sector is more of a negative stereotype held against the doctors by the other health workers and vice versa and addressing issues one sided will snowball into endless strikes. Let all be on the negotiation table; in fact, if the ward attendants and the security guards have decided to go under a different umbrella, let their thought and plight be accommodated.

I am inclined to suggest for a checklist to be use to justify why wages differ or why job responsibilities differ. I adopted this checklist off hand from my basic teaching in economics while in the high school (college) and expanded a little to accommodate other peculiar realities in the health sector. I recall given a lecture on the topic “leadership in the health sector” in one of the mandatory medical education sessions organized by a State chapter of the NMA when I sensed an imminent shout out in the sector. I advised that during the meeting (negotiation) the dissenting groups be allowed to make presentations by themselves adopting these simple and clear reasons why wages differ. Few pertinent questions that should be answered among others are as follows;

What are the natural (evolutional) and social histories of the doctors compared to other health workers? What is the duration/length of uninterrupted training to become a doctor in comparison to other health practitioners? (e.g., through the university system, polytechnic, or traditional schools as the case may be), what are the curriculum and the modules that must be passed to become a doctor compared to other health workers? What is the pass mark to be deemed as successful in and exam as a doctor compared to the other health workers? And how is the modality of the exams (e.g., external examiners, negative markings?).

What is the cut off mark for admission into the university and also the cut off mark for admission into medicine compared to the cut of marks into polytechnic and other courses?, what is the average length of work hours of a doctors and that of other health workers considering calls and off duty days?. The answers to these questions are straight forward and do not need a “But” answer and can be self administered by all and sundry. I am sure that by the time these few questions among others are answered and scores are awarded as appropriate, it will go a long way in resolving the issues at stake.

Recently I also read on the pages of the newspapers about an evolving profession in the health sector, they are called something like Association of Heads of Hospital administration. I cannot remember their nomenclature clearly. If they also interested to be joined in this quagmire, I think they should expressly be admitted into the dialogue so that in the near future, they don’t garner enough momentum and funds to be able to lobby the legislators to enact laws empowering them to prescribe drugs even as they do not have any training to do so  or get lawyers (Judicial consultants) to sway the judgement of the court to their favour.

I close this piece with the Yoruba saying, won pegbogboeran to niiwoigbinyoori,  meaning that “a call to all animals with horn (s) for a feast, then comes even a small claiming to be one of them”. God bless Nigeria!!!

Dr. Abdullahi Baba Abdul is former UN personnel in Trinidad and Tobago (Babaabdul2003@gmail.com)

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