Nigeria: Health care in Lagos grinds to a halt

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James Udeh did not understand why he was turned back at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, on Wednesday, in spite of being referred from his private hospital, for an eye treatment.

The reason was that doctors in federal hospitals in the state joined their state colleagues on a sympathy strike. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), last week, through its chairman, Edamisan Temiye, announced that “all doctors working in federal hospitals in the state will withdraw services for three days from Wednesday,” in the spirit of solidarity with their colleagues in state-owned public hospitals who are calling for the implementation of the federal government approved Consolidated Medical Salary (CONMESS).

Also affected by the solidarity strike action are the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi; Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba; and the Federal Medical Centre, Ebute-Metta

The casualties

“It is not good that this issue is allowed to get to a stage where no public hospital is now working in the state; this can kill people,’ said Mr Udeh. His fears were, however, confirmed by, Mary Okediji, who said she saw an unknown pregnant woman die hours earlier, after facing similar rejection by the hospital staff who said they were on strike. “The woman died this morning,” she said. “She was sitting over there after she was also rejected and she died later. I’m not sure where her body was taken to, but I suspect it was taken to the mortuary here.”

An official at the hospitals’ morgue declined to respond to questions, saying that he lacked the authority to speak to journalists. Efforts to contact the hospital’s public relations officer, Hope Nwawolo, was also not successful. “What do you expect the masses to do if all public hospitals in the state are on strike?,” said Mrs Okediji. “That’s just someone we have seen, what about the other people dying silently everywhere because of the strike?

Apart from being cheaper and more affordable than private hospitals, people have more confidence in them, because you can’t be sure of what you are getting in private clinics. Government has to think about the masses dying, because we cannot count the number of lives that are being wasted everyday. What patience can somebody who wants to give birth have?”

Sympathetic doctors

While most LUTH clinics were empty, patients who registered before Wednesday at the Accident and Emergency Ward, were attended to by nurses, while a few doctors still attended to their patients on admission in the other wards. Similarly, at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, new patients were also barred from registration, while those already on admission were attended to by some doctors. “Nothing has changed here at the accidents ward,” said a patient who identified himself as Samson. “The doctors have come for their rounds this morning and have done well.”

A mother, who identified herself as Mrs Adeyemi, also confirmed that doctors had not ceased to visit the children’s ward, where her child is. “The doctors are wonderful here, especially Dr Abikoye, who is so wonderful, and keeps attending to the children,” she said. “Our children have been seeing the doctors, and the strike is not affecting us.”

The battle rages on

Defending the strike, Yemi Raji, the President, LUTH Chapter of the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), said, “the state government needs to understand that it needs to pay its doctors, and the idea is to put pressure on them. Patients were going to the federal hospitals before now, putting too much pressure on us, but now that the federal hospitals are on a solidarity strike with doctors in state hospitals, the residents will put pressure on the government to do something.”

Speaking on NMA’s stance if the state government still refuses to implement the doctors’ demands, Mr. Temiye, said, “The situation will be reviewed for further action.”

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