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Health workers’ strike: Scores die, as patients, families groan nationwide

The week-long Strike action of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) in federal tertiary hospitals might have begun to take a dangerous toll on Nigerians across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, as scores have been reported dead following the unavailability of quick healthcare intervention in the public hospitals.

Sunday Tribune findings showed that tens of patients in need of specialised ad emergency medical attention could not access the needed intervention on time, as health workers in the hospitals stayed away from work, leaving only a few medical doctors to cater to the needs of countless patients.

The situation, which Sunday Tribune gathered has led to untold hardship and agony for patients with different ailments, as well as their family members, might, however, escalate in the coming days, as the union has threatened to extend to the strike to state hospitals and primary health care centres.

The strike action began on April 17, 2018, following what the union described as the Federal Government’s failure to honour agreements it had with the union in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2017, which border on the issue of adjusted Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS), among other issues.

In Bauchi, the Bauchi State capital, checks at some private hospitals revealed that no fewer than 10 patients had died, following the ongoing strike action by members of JOHESU in  Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Teaching Hospital (ATBTH), Bauchi, as patients and their relations continued to groan over the situation.

When our correspondent visited the hospital on Friday, patients were seen leaving the premises with their faces full of anguish, lamenting the situation they found themselves due to the action.

One of the patients, who spoke to our correspondent, Hajara Suleiman, lamented: “we are going to a private hospital, as we were not being attended to by the staff here. Though medical treatment is expensive in private hospital, we have no option.”

A woman, who simply gave her name as Bridget, said that she lost her younger sister at a private hospital due to the strike.

She said: “We had to move my late sister, Christiana, from ATBUTH to a private hospital on Thursday, due to the strike action and today (Friday), at about 1 p.m., she died. What else can I say? This is a lady with a bright future; she completed her youth service last week in Jigawa State.”

Another person, who spoke at the premises of Ni’ima Hospital, said that his wife was scheduled to be operated upon to remove a fibroid from her womb but that due to the strike, he had to move her from the ATBUTH and that they were planning to go to the Air Force Hospital.

The story is the same in all the private hospitals visited in Bauchi, where patients and their families gave one sad story or the other, appealing to JOHESU and the government parties to quickly reach a compromise in order to save innocent lives.

However, while speaking with journalists, the Chief Medical Director of ATBUTH, Dr Mohammed Alkali, said that though the hospital joined the strike, health workers were still rendering medical services to patients, especially emergency patients.

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Speaking through the deputy chairman, Medical Advisory Committee, Dr.  Sabiu Abdu Gwallabe, the CMD  said: “As you can see, the hospital premises is empty due to the strike but some of our units like the maternity, special medical unit, paediatric unit and others are rendering services to patients. Some staff members like temporary staff members and NYSC members are not part of JOHESU, so they are all on ground to attend to patients.”

In Benin City, findings showed that the strike had begun to take its toll on patients, who could not afford to go to private hospitals either for fresh treatment and to continue their treatments already started in the federal hospitals before the strike.

Many of the patients who had been on admission at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), Benin City, for various ailments and wounds before the strike recounted their ordeals.

Wale Williams, a reporter with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Bronze FM, Benin City, whose wife was delivered of a baby boy on the day the strike began, disclosed that paralysed activities at the hospital, as many patients were discharged due to absence of nurses.

“Emergency patients were referred while some were turned back causing panic among families whose relations are critically ill at the hospital. My wife was admitted a day before the strike and she delivered a baby 30 minutes before the commencement of the strike, but it was annoying that they only cleaned the baby up before the strike.

“There were no nurses to assist the women that just delivered. No nurse to bath a new born baby who came to the world at 6.45am. The baby was bathed at about 8 a.m. by my wife. The doctors were just rushing to carry out a Caesarean Section in order to have the assistance of nurses before the strike,” he said.

Also, David Mike, a native of Auchi, who had been on the hospital bed for months, said that before the strike, he was receiving quick treatment from the nurses on a daily basis, but the situation became worse when the nurses and other staff members went on the strike.

Douglas Iduoze, a victim of robbery in Benin City, who said he was brought to the hospital by some good Samaritans and his cousin after he was shot by the robbers, who made away with his vehicle, maintained that he had been receiving treatments at UBTH for three months until recently when the nurses and others staff went on strike.

Similarly, Akanbi Mohammed, a native of Osogbo in Osun State, who was shot by robbers at Upper Sakpomba area, Benin City, and had been on admission for more than a month at the hospital, relayed his experience since the strike began few days ago.

He said: “Doctors are not responding to us as patients. Recently, they discharged some people to go home, but the amount being charged is too high for them to pay. So, we do not have the power to pay. Nurses gave us better treatment than these doctors; they attend to our needs urgently unlike doctors who are few in numbers. Government should help us, we are tired, even my co-patient has not been attended to by his doctor, while others that were discharged have to come back because of the scanty information from the nurses who were not ready to give full detail in the file to another hospital.”

Some of the doctors, who do not want their names in print, talked about their desires to ensure that patients do not suffer by rendering necessary medical services to them. They appealed to government and the union to come to a logical agreement that would avert future strike, adding that patients “are the major victims of this struggle.”

In the same vein the hospital’s public relations officer, Uwaila Joshua, in his response said: “We all understand what is going on, that it is a national strike, not a local strike and to that extent, we can hardly stop the union or its members from going on with the strike. So they have gone on the strike and the hospital has ensured that emergency services are put in place.

The story is not different in Ogun State, where medical activities have been paralysed at the Federal Medical Centre, Idi -Aba, Abeokuta, as all health workers except doctors stayed away from work.

When Sunday Tribune visited the hospital on Friday, virtually all the wards were empty, as families of patients were said to have taken their sick ones to other medical facilities within and outside the state.

The Accident and Emergency Unit, Children’s Emergency Ward, Obstetrics and Gynecology Ward, male and female surgical wards were all empty.

It was gathered that JOHESU’s national body had sent a monitoring task force team to the hospital to ascertain level of compliance with the strike.

Similarly, activities in some government hospitals within Abuja were crippled by the ongoing strike action, with several people lamenting how the strike has led to the death of one or two close relatives around the country.

A visit to national hospitals in Abuja revealed that the level of attention given to patients was not as intense as it used to be though doctors were on ground to attend to patients.

Nurses, hospital assistants and other staffers from other departments could not be seen, as they were said to be adhering strictly to the directive on the strike action.

A visit to the children ward in a particular hospital showed that the impact of the strike was not felt, as doctors were seen attending to the patients. But one of the doctors, who did not want her name in print, told Sunday Tribune that though the number of staff taking care of patients was not enough, they would not leave any stone unturned to ensure that all the patients get adequate attention.

In Ondo State, patients at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owo, Ondo State, have appealed to the Federal Government to look into the agitations of the health workers to save the lives of the patients on admission.

A visit to the centre showed that skeletal services were going on in some departments of the hospital, with patients, especially those on admission, being attended to.

One of the patients, who identified herself as Tinuke, told Sunday Tribune that some of the health workers occasionally attended to patients who were in serious pains.

“Though we have not recorded any casualty, some people have been moved out while some of the workers visit here to attend to the patients,” she said.

Sunday Tribune investigation indicated that a majority of the patients on admission at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Complex (OAUTHC), Ile-Ife and their relatives had begun to face a hell of a time as the withdrawal of services by health personnel aggravated their conditions.

Some of the relatives of patients on admission and out-patients who could not stand the pains and neglect being suffered by their people were spotted making arrangements to move them to private hospitals and clinics.

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Health workers’ strike: Scores die, as patients, families groan nationwide


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