June 15, 2020 / 10:52 AM / 18 days ago

Nigerian doctors strike for better benefits during coronavirus crisis

ABUJA (Reuters) - Resident doctors in Nigerian public hospitals went on strike on Monday to demand better benefits, including the provision of more protective equipment, as they battle the coronavirus, the union said.

Dr Aliyu Sokomba, President of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) is seen during a news conference to announce the commencement of a national resident doctors strike, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection continues to rise in Abuja, Nigeria June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Those treating COVID-19 patients will stay on the job but their union, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), gave the government two weeks to meet the demands or else they would also walk out.

Resident doctors are those who have graduated from medical school and are training as specialist consultants. They are pivotal to frontline healthcare in Nigeria as they dominate the emergency wards in its hospitals.

Strikes are common in Nigeria’s public health system, with clinicians frequently seeking pay rises and improvements to under-funded infrastructure to meet the rising burden of healthcare in the West African country of 200 million people.

“If the government fails to meet our minimum demands within two weeks, the resident doctors working in (COVID-19) isolation centres will automatically join the strike,” Aliyu Sokomba, the head of the union, said in a statement.

The resident doctors are seeking a COVID-19 pay supplement in addition to life insurance for doctors and more funds in the federal budget for their training, among other demands.

The union has complained about inadequate protective equipment to treat COVID-19 patients and has said that 10 doctors have died so far from the highly infectious respiratory disease.

Health Minister Osagie Ehanire told reporters government officials were holding talks with the union.

Nigeria has had more than 16,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 420 deaths. Most cases have been in Lagos, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest city of 20 million inhabitants.

Last month, doctors in Lagos staged a one-day strike over what they described as police harassment of health workers trying to move through the city to treat patients during a coronavirus curfew.

Reporting by Afolabi Sotunde and Angela Ukomadu in Lagos; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jane Merriman

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