Good morning gentlemen, and thank you for once again honouring our invitation. I am sure this is the first time we are inviting you to a press conference on Sunday. But it is said that a toad does not run in the daytime for nothing. There is, therefore, no doubt that the subject of today’s press conference must be an important one, and it is!
2. Indeed, anything that touches on human life is of paramount importance. That is why we are here this Sunday to address the issue of the ongoing strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), which started on Monday, June 15th 2020 and has continued to
3. Please permit me to give a quick background. The Association issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Federal Government on June 1st 2020, during which it demanded the resolution of the issues they raised. The issues are:
i. Access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all health workers;
ii. Immediate reversal of the disengagement of 26 resident doctors at Jos University Teaching Hospital;
iii. Immediate implementation of the Special Hazard Allowance and COVID-19 Inducement Allowance which, in the first instance, is the initiative of the federal government.
iv. Capturing of funding for Medical Residency Training Programme in the 2021 appropriation bill;
v. Payment of all arrears of consequential adjustment of the national minimum wage to its members and implementation of such in the State tertiary health institutions.
vi. State Governments that had slashed the members salaries by as much as 25%, like Kaduna and Kogi, to be made to stop and refund such.
4. Please note that prior to this period, the Federal Government, under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment (FML&E) had, on April 21st 2020, convened a pro-active emergency meeting between the Government side comprising Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), the Federal Ministry of Finance (FMoF), the National Salaries Incomes and Wages (NSIWC) and the Office of the Head of Service (OHOSF) and the Health Professional Associations and Unions under Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU). The Professional Associations comprised of the Leadership of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria (PAN), the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) and the Health Unions by JOHESU Leadership. The aim of the meeting was to rub minds with these Health Workers on how to successfully work with them throughout the pandemic.
5. The proactive step by the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment was informed by the fact that as a Medical Doctor, he realized that an industrial action by any group in the Health chain will be disastrous to our weak, fragile health system at this period of pandemic, so he had stressed and conveyed to the Health workers, the Federal Government’s, and in particular Mr. President’s, gratitude for their bravery, courage and devotion as frontline workers in the fight against the unseen mortal enemy – Covid-19
6. It is pertinent to say that the issues raised by the Association, while issuing its ultimatum on June 1st, have received or are receiving full attention:
i. Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, have been supplied to all State and Federal Tertiary Hospitals and funds for the same have been provided in the revised 2020 budget.
ii. Implementation of the Residency Training programme was backed by the National Assembly, which provided ₦4 billion in the revised 2020 budget, while the Ministry of Health is working with the Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) to build a template to assure same in the Personnel Cost of 2021 Budget.
iii. We have also paid N9 billion as premium for Group Life Insurance to all our health workers and N4,642,485,146.00 as Special Hazard Allowance to health workers as already acknowledged in at least 35 hospitals.
Please note that the payment of COVID-19 Special Hazard Inducement allowances are based on 4 templates:
– 50% of Consolidated Basic Salary to all workers in Covid-19 designated Hospitals and Centres
– 40% of Consolidated Basic Salary to health workers in Non-Covid-19 designated Centres and Hospitals
– 10% of Consolidated Basic Salary to Non-Health Professionals engaged in those centres
– 20% of Consolidated Basic Salary special allowance to all health workers directly managing Covid-19 patients in Treatment and Isolation Centres
In summary, a total of 55,031 Health workers in 35 Covid-19 designated hospitals and medical centres have been paid Special Hazard Allowance totalling N4,642,485,146.00 as of today and more payments are being processed .
Other matters relating to non-payment of arrears dating as far back as 2014 or salaries owed by State Governments, are either in court, or beyond the power of the Federal Ministry of Health to resolve.
7. After the 14-day ultimatum was issued, negotiations were immediately opened with the Association, and were facilitated by the Health Committees of the National Assembly, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and, of course, the Minister of Labour and Employment.
8. Gentlemen, despite the payment of the Hazard Allowance and the Group Life Insurance, the provision of PPE as well as addressing other issues raised by the resident doctors, they still opted to proceed on strike. This is happening at a time the nation is battling a pandemic of immense proportions. This inexplicable strike is a dangerous setback for the nation’s efforts at tackling the pandemic.
9. Permit me to speak more on the Covid-19 pandemic and our health workers. Gentlemen, as we have always said, the health workers are our heroes. They have been in the forefront of the efforts to contain the pandemic. In the process, many have been infected with the virus.
We are also aware of the challenges confronting health workers in carrying out their duties, especially the provision of the PPE. But I make bold to say that the Federal Government has done
everything possible to procure PPE and make such available to our health workers. Of course, the fact that this is a global pandemic has affected the availability of PPEs and other requirements for fighting the pandemic. Not even the developed countries have been able to procure all that they require, such as PPEs and ventilators. But Nigeria has prioritized this and has also succeeded in procuring as many PPEs as possible for distribution to our health workers, and we now have a stockpile for emergency situation.
10. Apart from the provision of PPEs and other equipment, the Federal Government has done the following:
i Expansion of the testing laboratories from two to 38
ii Training of over 13,000 health workers in Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC)
iii Development of policy and protocols for testing returning Nigerians
iv Development of policies and protocols for integration of primary healthcare into national response
v. Development of stronger and sustainable policy for community engagement and risk Communication
vi. Increase in the isolation centre bed space from 3,000 to more than 5,000 nationwide
11. We have reeled out the details of the efforts made by the Federal Government to strengthen the nation’s capacity to respond robustly to the pandemic as well as to protect our healthcare workers.
We have also informed you that the government has effected the payment of Hazard Allowance and Group Life Insurance for the health workers. This is a responsible government and it has acted responsibly to avert this needless strike
12. Gentlemen, many options are open to the Federal Government in tackling the strike, yet it has chosen negotiation over confrontation, as you can see in the efforts we have made so far. The Government has bent over backwards to meet the demands of the striking doctors.
13. We must express the Government’s consternation that resident doctors will choose a time like this, when we are battling a pandemic, to embark on a strike. This negates what obtains in other parts of the world, where health workers are rallying around their governments to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. Nigeria must be among, if not the only nation, where doctors – who are classified as essential workers – have opted for a strike during a public health emergency.
14. Currently, only essential and skeletal service is being rendered in the nation’s public hospitals. There is no doubt that the strike has impacted negatively on public health, putting many lives – including those of their members – at risk. This is not right and it clearly negatives the Hippocratic Oath to which the doctors subscribe.
While the Federal Government continues to engage the resident doctors in negotiation, we want to use this opportunity to appeal to them to respect their oath and put life above other considerations. This is an ill-timed and ill-considered strike. We hope the striking doctors will immediately reconsider their stand and end the strike today! By doing so, they will be saving many lives.
15. I thank you all for your kind attention