Doctors in Nigeria’s state-run hospitals have began a strike over pay, insurance benefits and poor facilities as the country faces a third wave of coronavirus.
The strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), which represents about 40 percent of doctors in Africa’s most populous country, started on Monday and is the latest in a series of medical staff work stoppages.
“The nationwide strike started at 8am. It’s an indefinite strike,” NARD president Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi told AFP news agency. “There will be no exemption for doctors handling COVID-19 cases.”
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He said the industrial action was to push government to honour its agreement on pay arrears, hazard allowance as well as insurance benefits to families of doctors who have died of the virus.
“We are asking government to pay insurance benefits of 19 of our members who have died in the line of duty,” he said.
Okhuaihesuyi said Nigerian doctors were ill-equipped and under-funded for the job while the facilities in state-run hospitals “are deplorable”.
He said some states owed several months of salaries and other benefits, adding that the strike would not be suspended until the union’s demands were met.
“We appeal to Nigerians to bear with us. Doctors and their families are suffering. We can no longer pay our bills because of government’s insensitivity and neglect of our welfare.”
There are some 42,000 doctors in Nigeria, of whom 16,000 are residents – medical school graduates training as specialists.
Doctors have long complained of a lack of beds and drugs in hospitals as well as inadequate protective equipment. Other demands include life insurance coverage, a pay rise and payment of unsettled wages.
The doctors union has previously called work stoppages on similar issues, grounding activities in government hospitals before calling them off.
The union called off a 10-day strike in April. Health services and activities were paralysed before it was suspended.
Authorities fear any reduction in capacity this time could harm the country’s ability to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, including a programme to administer vaccines.
Nigeria, with a population of 210 million, has officially recorded 174,315 COVID-19 cases and 2,149 deaths since the first case of the virus in February 2020. But the real figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of low testing rates.
Last month, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control said it had detected the more contagious Delta variant, putting officials on alert for a third wave of infections in the country.