Nigerian doctors strike, but virus facilities exempt

ABUJA (AFP) – Nigerian doctors in state-run hospitals went on strike yesterday over complaints on welfare and inadequate protective equipment, but said medics treating coronavirus patients would keep working.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation of 200 million inhabitants, has recorded 16,085 cases and 420 deaths since the first index case of the virus in February.

More than 800 health workers have been infected by the virus, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

“A decision to commence on a total indefinite strike with exemption only for COVID-19 treatment centres has been taken,” the National Association of Resident Doctors, which represents some 40 per cent of Nigeria’s doctors, said in a tweet.

“This is with effect from Monday 15/06/2020.”

Association President Aliyu Sokomba told AFP that doctors treating virus cases were not downing tools because medics did not want to “deprive COVID-19 patients care”.

But he warned that the exempted doctors would be forced to join the action if the government refuses to meet its demands within two weeks.

“We believe that in two weeks, we should be able to conclude on that. But if they continue to demonstrate their insincerity, we may have no choice than to coopt the doctors we have exempted to join the strike.”

The organisation had threatened the strike over a raft of issues, including the “grossly inadequate” provision of protective equipment and calls for hazard pay for those working on the virus.

Other demands focussed on improving general welfare and protesting sackings or pay cuts for doctos in two regions.

Strikes by medics are common in Nigeria, where the health sector has been underfunded for years.

The authorities fear that any reduction in capacity could severely hamper its ability to tackle the pandemic as the number of cases continues to rise.

The main nationwide doctors union briefly staged a warning strike in commercial hub Lagos over police harasmment of its members.