Trouble in Nigeria’s house of health …as strike looms

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THERE is trouble in Nigeria’s house of health at the Federal level, where health workers under the aegis of the Joint Health Sector Unions, JOHESU, are spoiling for a showdown with Federal government.

The grouse of the workers, comprising nurses, midwives, laboratory scientists, non-academic staff and others affiliated with the five unions in the health sector,  and the Assembly of all Health Professional Associations, all operating under  JOHESU,in Federal hospitals and other institutions, is not unconnected with series of issues which they describe as inimical to their welfare in particular and healthcare delivery in the country in general.

Top on the demands of the workers include, among others, the call for the sack of the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu: implementation of the May 10, 2012 Collective Agreement  that caters for promotion of members under the controversial CONHESS 14 to 15 (among other issues), and the cessation of appointment of medical and dental professionals as Chief Medical Directors and Medical Directors of Federal tertiary health institutions.

They also alleged various acts of discrimination and victimisation while decrying what they described as paltry compensation of families of health workers killed by extremists in Kano State during the National Programme on Immunisation exercise.
On March 18, 2013,    JOHESU declared a nine-point trade dispute upon which itissued a 15-day ultimatum to Federal Government to implement the May 10, 2012 Collective Agreement, among others.

Although spirited moves were made  to  resolve the protracted industrial dispute at the highest levels including JOHESU, the  Ministry  of Labour and Productivity,  the Federal Ministry of Health, the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission and the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, NICN, findings reveal that much remain to be desired, and even as the  ultimatum  expires today, a shadow of uncertainty hangs over fortunes of the nation’s health sector.

Just last week, at a media parley in Lagos the health workers unanimously  threatened to “perpetuate unrest within the health sector” if the  stated demands are not met.

They have called on President  Goodluck Jonathan to wade into the ongoing deterioration of health services especially at the tertiary level of care which they allege has turned hospitals in the country into mere consulting clinics.

Making the call during an update of happenings and developments in the health sector, National Chairman, JOHESU, and President, Medical & Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria, Dr. Ayuba Wabba, urged the President to step in and save the sector from imminent collapse.
“The industrial relation atmosphere in the health sector has been the worst in recent times and the total absence of a harmonious working relationship between medical and dental practitioners on one hand and other health professionals on the other.

“The cliff of disharmony encouraged by the Minister of Health keeps widening daily and we are very concerned. Nigerians who are entitled to quality healthcare services   are at the receiving end,” he remarked.

However, a statement from the office of the Minister of Health said  a careful scrutiny of the grievances “indicate that there is either a demand for what is not provided for in Extant Government Circulars and Regulations or what requires a review of relevant Laws and Regulations by the appropriate agencies and organs of government”.

Career structure

According to the statement: “If anything, it is under the watch of Prof. C.O. Onyebuchi Chukwu as Minister of Health that progress was made in adjusting the career structure for health workers, removing the barrier to promotion to the directorate cadre for health workers.

“It is surprising that they would call for the removal of the  Minister under whose watch, Nigeria’s score rose from 47.5 percent in 2009 to 50.7 percent in 2011 in the Mo Ibrahim Human Development Index (Health Category).  When considered in totality especially as some of the matters they are aggrieved about are already before the Industrial Arbitration Court and the Federal Ministry of Health with scheduled meetings ahead to resolve all outstanding matters,” the statement said

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