Patients Groan As JOHESU’s Strike Bites Hard
ACROSS the federation, the three-month old Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) strike is biting hard on patients and the healthcare system.
From Taraba to the neighbouring Gombe state, the story is the same as only patients with the means can afford to go to private hospitals, while many others are left with no other option than to take refuge in the various herbal and spiritual homes spread in the nooks and crannies of the states.
While private hospitals, spiritual and herbal homes are reaping from the effects of the strike, relations of patients who are presently bedridden in government hospitals in the two states, are not finding the situation funny.
One of those affected by the strike is a 71-year-old woman who lost her son in one of the state’s government-owned hospital. “I know the blood of my late child would definitely not forgive all those who deliberately refused to attend to the demands of the health workers so that they can go back to their hospitals and attend to our sick people,” she said.
Although some hospitals, especially the Federal Teaching Hospital in Gombe State are offering skeletal services, the negative impact of the strike has continued affect the people.
Most of the recent blast victims presently receiving medical attention in the hospital are no longer finding things easy, as nurses and other health workers attached to them have been compelled to withdraw their services because of the strike. Gombe State is hosting the bulk of the blast victims in neigbouring states of Yobe and Borno.
A patient, who was seen writhing in pains at the hospital, told The Guardian the strike has worsened his condition.
The Public Relations Officer of the Federal Teaching Hospital, Gombe, Haruna Abdulrasheed, confirmed that doctors at the hospital have been rendering skeletal service to attend to emergency cases, adding that men from the Red Cross Society and the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) are lending helping hands.
But The Guardian observed that the skeletal services are limited to certain departments.
The situation in Taraba State is pathetic as healthcare services in the two major government hospitals, Federal Medical Centre and Specialist Hospital are nothing to write about.
Saddened by the development, majority of the patients have relocated back to their villages. Not comfortable with the ongoing situation, the immediate past chairman of the Taraba State chapter of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN), Mr.Iriekpen Lucky, called on government to desist from toying with the lives of its citizens.“ Government should take the lives of Nigerians serious. Let them stop paying lip service with the transformation agenda.”
“It is unfortunate that the government allowed this to happen at this time, knowing fully well that doctors just came back from strike. One would have expected that as a responsible government, there should have been a holistic approach to resolving the issues that led to the strikes,” he said.
In Port Harcourt, the strike has continued to take its toll on patients, as health care services at the federal and state government-owned hospitals have been crippled.
The development has also sent some patients whose family members could not afford the exorbitant charges by the private hospitals, to their early graves.
A caller on a radio call-in programme reported in Port Harcourt recently that a neighbour in Eliozu axis in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of the state whose wife was due to put bed, took her to a maternity home and after some efforts, they were referred to the hospital but because he had no money, he brought his wife back to the house, locked her up with the older baby and disappeared. It was reported that the woman laboured till she died. Neighbours later broke the door only to find that the woman was dead.
Although, the health workers embarked on the nationwide strike to protest non-implementations of signed agreement with the federal government, some Port Harcourt residents argued that strike should not be the best option to press for demands in the health sector, considering the importance of their job to human lives.
Speaking on the effects of the strike, a pediatrician registrar at the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital, Dr. Appolous Josiah, said the development is affecting healthcare services drastically.
Josiah explained that health care is a collective affair, saying that when a group is unavailable, it paralyses efficient services.
A visit to some of the public hospitals in Rivers such as the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPHTH) and the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital (BMSH), showed stranded patients as most departments in the hospitals were closed.
It was also learnt that the public hospitals were not admitting patients, except pediatrics department, which admits only emergency cases and clinics for outpatients.
“In BMSH, we use our junior doctors to do the work of nurses. The contract staff cleaners are used as nurses and secretarial staff.
“It is difficult to estimate the mortality resulting from the strike because patients don’t come to the public hospitals where proper documentation of deaths are done. Certainly, many casualties will result from the strike because of financial constraints,” Josiah said.
On the way forward, Josiah said it was necessary to have a conference between the doctors and other healthcare providers probably moderated by the National Assembly to make each state negotiate directly with its health workers and put health on the concurrent list.
Similarly, the Chief Medial Director of UPTH, Prof. Aaron Ojule, described the situation as unpleasant, noting: “When you are playing a football match and you do not have a complete team, that match won’t give you the expected result. Presently, what we are doing is not that much due to the lapses that resulted by the strike action.”
But normal work seems to be going on at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Asaba, Delta State, despite the ongoing strike.
During a visit to the hospital on recently, patients were seen trooping in and out of the hospital, even as in-patients occupied most of the beds. Offices and clinics manned by doctors were opened to patients who patiently sat on the long benches, waiting on queues.
A patient, who simply gave her name as Alice, told The Guardian that she came to seek treatment for severe cold and cough, adding that she was initially reluctant to go to the hospital because of the lingering strike until her friend, who had been to the hospital, persuaded her. She was not disappointed as the doctors fully attended to her right from the laboratory to the clinic.
Another patient, Mama Ngozi, said that on learning that doctors were not actually part of the strike, she decided to try out the hospital. Her two-year-old child was promptly attended to at the laboratory where she was referred to by the doctor who eventually treated her.
But JOHESU leaders have accused FMC management of using quacks at the hospital. A statement by the Chairman of JOHESU, Mr.Tony Asiodu, advised the public against being lured to patronise the hospital.
He said: “The management has thrown away tenets of professionalism and ethics of professional conduct in a bid to create a posture that the hospital is providing services when in actual sense, they are rendering unhealthy and quack services which pose a great threat to Delta State citizens and members of the public at large, because all the qualified professional whose job they are trying to do are on strike.”
According to him, a situation where non-qualified and non-licensed casual staff were employed to carry out laboratory and nursing services is unacceptable and condemnable, urging the people to be wary of the management’s antics.
But the Medical Director, Dr Leo Ehrunmwunse, vehemently denied the allegation. He said: “People are allowed to go on strike if they declare it. We are not fighting them. The issue is between them and the Federal Government and not between them and FMC, Asaba. So, there is no point bringing the battle squarely on FMC, Asaba, as if it is the FMC that is not yielding to their requests.”
In Abia State, the strike can be described as partial. The two main public health institutions in the state, Federal Medical Center (FMC), Umuahia, and the State Specialist Hospital and Diagnostic Centre in Aba and Umuahia (Amachara Hospital) are functioning, as most patients still access medical treatment.
When The Guardian visited the FMC recently, the scenario showed slowed activity, but there were in-patients and outpatients being attended to.