The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has lamented the neglect of the families of frontline doctors, who died of COVID-19 despite N500bn released by the Federal Government last year for the COVID-19 response.
The National President of NARD, Dr Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, expressed this regret during an interview with The Punch on Thursday.
Recall that the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, who doubles as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation had, at a press briefing on April 4, 2020, said the Federal Government was working with stakeholders to structure medical and life insurance for health workers involved in the war against COVID-19 in Nigeria.
Mustapha 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 money, which was approved in tranches of N213.9bn and N286bn, was expected to fund the upgrade of health facilities, 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 facilities 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 support states in improving healthcare facilities.
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.
Consequently, the NARD President 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. Resident 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. No family member 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 Chris Ngige. 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 the President of NARD, Okhuaihesuyi; and the Secretary General, Dr Jerry Isogun, doctors were asked to prepare financially and mentally for the industrial action.
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 two-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.”