Doctors threaten strike, say FG not paying dead members’ insurance

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The National Association of Doctors says the families of frontline doctors, who died of COVID-19, have been abandoned despite N500bn released by last year for the COVID-19 response.

The National President of NARD, Dr Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, said this during an interview with The PUNCH on Thursday.

Recall that the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, had, at a press briefing on April 4, 2020, said was working with stakeholders to structure medical and life insurance for health workers involved in the war against COVID-19 in Nigeria.

Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, had said, “In recognition of the danger to which our frontline health workers are exposed to, government is working with other stakeholders to structure medical and life insurance cover for their protection.”

Also, as part of government’s response to COVID-19, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, had on April 7, 2020 announced the establishment of a N500bn COVID-19 crisis intervention fund.

The , which was approved in tranches of N213.9bn and N286bn, was expected to fund the upgrade of health , the Special Public Work Programmes being implemented by the National Directorate of Employment and other interventions.

Ahmed had said, “President Buhari has approved establishment of a N500bn COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund. It will involve drawing much-needed cash resources from various special funds and accounts, in consultation with and with the approval of the National Assembly.

“The N500 billion is proposed to be utilised to upgrade healthcare as earlier identified by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 approved by President Buhari. The fund is also to finance Federal Government’s interventions to states in improving healthcare .

But on Thursday, NARD, which is the umbrella body for all doctors undergoing residency training, said at least 17 of its members had died of COVID-19 while their families were not given any insurance claim.

The NARD President, therefore, stated that the body would be embarking on an indefinite strike beginning from March 31, 2021.

He said, “The families of doctors who died of COVID-19 have not been paid. They have been left behind and their families are struggling. doctors under GIMFIS (Government Integrated Financial Management Information System; an IT based system for budgeting and accounting) haven’t been paid in over three months and you are trying to curb brain drain?

“About 3,824 of our doctors were exposed to COVID-19 while 1, 600 were infected. About 17 died. The government said a premium would be paid, however, as we speak, nothing has been done. family has been given anything and they claim all doctors have been insured.

“I believe it is lip service. My predecessor in NARD met with ministers like Festus Keyamo, Olorunnimbe Mamora, Osagie Ehanire and . They said we have been insured. They come to table, make negotiations and then abandon them.”

In an internal memo dated March 18, 2021 titled, ‘Impending strike action’ which was jointly signed by of NARD, Okhuaihesuyi; and the Secretary General, Dr Jerry Isogun, doctors were asked to prepare financially and mentally for the industrial action.

The PUNCH reports that this will be the third nationwide strike by doctors in just nine months having gone on strike in June and September 2020 due to unpaid allowances and poor working conditions.

The memo with reference number, NARD/SG/2020-2021/180321/376 stated that the strike would be total and indefinite.

It read in part, “Recall that at our last ENEC (emergency national executive meeting), it was resolved that a -week timeline should be given to government to expedite actions on issues brought to it. Recall that the January NEC gave an ultimatum that will elapse March 31, 2021 for all pending issues to be addressed.

“In the light of the above, we ask that all members should be sensitised and encouraged to prepare mentally, socially and financially for a strike action that will commence on March 31 indefinitely.”

Okhuaihesuyi told The PUNCH that was still paying a paltry N5,000 as hazard allowance to medical doctors.

He added, “A year ago, we told them to pay the insurance for members we lost. The Federal Government said they had done everything. After a year, none of the members has received insurance claims.

“We are still being paid N5,000 hazard allowances while National Assembly members take over N1.2m monthly for hardship allowance.”

Okhuaihesuyi said the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment had also failed to attend to their plight and even cancelled an important meeting where pressing issues were supposed to have been discussed.

“On February 26, we were to meet with the ministry of labour only to be told a day earlier that the meeting had been postponed and till today nothing. Enough is enough. They can go ahead to implement -work- pay. We will make the health sector ungovernable for them,” he said.

The NARD President further stated that the Chairman, Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, Prof. Abba Hassan, had withheld funds meant for doctors.

A medical doctor in one of the centres in Abuja told The PUNCH that indeed, the government was not being truthful about the insurance.

Insurance in secrecy, we don’t know how much – Doctor in centre

“We don’t know how much the insurance is. Nothing was given to us to sign, paper to show for anything. They just said frontline health workers had been insured. They never revealed how much. Nobody knows the amount. In fact, they should produce the names of those insured,” she said.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 vaccination on Thursday suffered a setback in Kano, the Kano capital, as most of the designated centres in the metropolis were deserted.

When one of our correspondents visited the centres, he observed that there were no health workers and people to be vaccinated in many of them.

When the correspondent visited the Abdullahi Wase Specialist in Nassarawa area, the place was empty.

One non-health worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said medical officers administering the vaccine had gone to the Emir of Kano’s palace where the vaccination for the Kano Municipal Local Government Area would be held.

However, on reaching the palace, few medical officers that were at the palace said they were going to the Walin Kano’s house to administer the vaccine to him and his family.

All efforts to speak to the medical officers on the number of those vaccinated, proved abortive as they quickly drove of the palace.

Similarly, at the Murtala Muhammed Specialist where Governor Abdullahi Ganduje received AstraZeneca vaccine, the story was the same as the designated centre was also deserted.

However, one health official in the told journalists on condition of anonymity that they had problems with registering prospective persons for the vaccination.

“We have serious problems with data procession because there is no network to allow people to register and the few ones we have vaccinated used their international passports before we vaccinated them”.

He noted that they commenced vaccination at 11.30am and as of 2pm only 10 persons had been vaccinated.

All efforts to get reactions of the Commissioner of Health, Dr Ibrahim Aminu Tsanyawa, failed as he did not pick calls to his mobile telephone.

But the Government on Thursday commenced the vaccination.

During the exercise in Makurdi, the state Governor, Samuel Ortom, said that a lot of efforts were made to control the disease but regretted that the virus had continued to spread.

He maintained that vaccination was a critical part of Nigeria’s strategies to curb transmission of the virus.

The governor called on people of the state to voluntarily present themselves for COVID-l9 vaccination and be available to take the second dose in 12 weeks’ time.

Why Ayade hasn’t taken COVID-19 vaccine – aide

In Cross River State, the Commissioner for Health, Dr Betta Edu, explained why the state Governor, Prof Ben Ayade, was not among the first of people that received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

She said it was because frontline health workers, according to vaccination guidelines, were supposed to be the first of people to take it and that the governor was in Abuja.

He stated, “At the national level, when the vaccine came into Nigeria, it was not that took first. It was not the Vice- President. It was health workers at the National Hospital and the nurse from the centre. These were the first of people that took it.”

The Special Assistant to Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, on Public Health, Dr Jimlas Ogunsakin, said 280 persons had received the COVID-19 vaccine in the state.

Ogunsakin, who said that none of them had shown or reported any effect, expressed the state government’s readiness for any adverse effect.

The medical expert, who spoke during a chat with journalists in Ado Ekiti, said, “Top government functionaries have been vaccinated, including Governor Kayode Fayemi. No fewer than 280 persons have been vaccinated and with none manifesting mild or adverse effect to the immunisation.”

Vaccination delay: We are taking precautions not to endanger citizens, says Oyo

On its part, the Oyo State Government said although it had taken delivery of the vaccine, it was taking necessary precautions in order not to endanger the lives of citizens who would take the jabs.

The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr Taiwo Adisa, in his response to inquiries by one of our correspondents, said, “We, too, in Oyo State have to take some basic precautionary measures. One of the measures was that we ensured first of all, because of the potency of the vaccine, the type we got was the one that could only operate within +2degree centigrade to +8degree centigrade which we have at our Jericho Cold Store.” ,,