Nigerian doctors embark on indefinite strike amid ravaging pandemic

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Resident doctors in Nigerian public hospitals began an indefinite strike on Monday over grievances that include the delayed payment of salaries and allowances, the doctors’ union said, as the country faces rising COVID-19 infections.

Nigerian doctors frequently strike over what they say are poor conditions of service. Last year they walked out from their jobs three times, including over demands for an allowance for treating coronavirus patients.

Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, president of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), said the strike had started early on Monday and that the government had not reached out to the union since it gave notice of the job action.

Asked whether the strike would affect the COVID-19 vaccination drive, Uyilawa told Reuters in a mobile phone message: “Hunger is worse than COVID-19. We have lost 19 members to COVID-19, with no death-in-service insurance.”

A ministry of health spokesperson said he would try to provide comment later on Monday.

Nigeria has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases since mid July. Some 174,315 cases and 2,149 deaths have been recorded since the outbreak last year, official data shows.

In a communique issued on Saturday, after a meeting of its national executive council, NARD said salary shortfalls stretching over months, failure to pay some doctors COVID-19 allowances and shortages of manpower in hospitals were among the reasons that had pushed its members to strike.

Lagos state said the decision by the doctors was hasty and appealed for restraint from NARD doctors in the state.

Resident doctors are medical school graduates training as specialists. They are pivotal to frontline healthcare in Nigeria as they dominate the emergency wards in its hospitals.

Uyilawa said his union represented 16,000 resident doctors out of a total of 42,000 doctors in Africa’s most populous country.