Going on strike, leaving millions without access to healthcare, putting their ‘fellow human beings’ at risk for the sake of wage grievances is greedy at best, criminal at worst: a selfish “my way or the grave” mentality.
Morally reflective people have wrestled with the question of whether civil disobedience by doctors is ever morally justified, and if so, under what circumstances? Unless you happen to be a member of the Nigerian government (or can afford private healthcare), it is easy to empathise with and support the various public protests that serve to tackle the inequality in society and highlight the immorality of those in ‘power’.
However, there are some situations where strike action can have a detrimental effect not only on the government but on ordinary people, and in rare cases it seems as if the grievances of a few employees are selfishly put ahead of the pressing needs of the larger society. Case in point is the Lagos state doctors’ strike – symptom of the nation’s healthcare disease; a new mood of militancy currently sweeping through the medical profession.
Doctors are an incredibly rare commodity in Africa. In fact, Nigeria currently records 0.4 physicians per thousand people compared to 0.27 in 2000. That figure means doctors here are rarer than in almost every other country on earth. Yet every year, thousands of qualified doctors, nurses, dentists and other members of industry flee the country to earn their keep in places like the UK, the US, Canada and Australia leaving the home front chronically short-staffed. Those who stay back then express their discontent over pay and working conditions by violating the very ethics they’ve sworn to operate by.
It is perfectly fine to demand a fair wage – nobody should be punished for serving the public and the Nigerian government is clearly not doing enough to keep hold of our in-demand doctors. But in January 2010, there was a move from the CONTISS payment structure to CONMESS – the document shows a leap in salaries and benefits for healthcare professional and speaks for something. Plus, there are bigger problems in our healthcare industry strike actions will not resolve.
In recent years, it has been impossible to pick up a newspaper without reading about the latest doctors’ strike. The current stand-off has been rolling on for almost three months now – it amazes me that doctors are willing for it to go on indefinitely while Lagos’ citizens (at least, the majority who can’t afford private healthcare) suffer endless medical complaints, often with tragic outcomes. It’s a death knell for the profession’s reputation. Sooner or later, doctors – once revered- would be dragged down to the same level as bankers or — dare I say it — senators, and regarded as a bunch of money-grabbers who put their own demands before the wider needs of the public.
The medical world is not meant to be like this. Working as a doctor is not a mere occupation. It is a vocation — one built on compassion for the most vulnerable in society. Upon entering the medical profession all doctors have to swear to practice medicine ethically, promising to “apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures required”, to “prevent disease whenever I can” and to “remember I remain a member of society with obligations to all my fellow human beings”. Going on strike, leaving millions without access to healthcare, putting their ‘fellow human beings’ at risk for the sake of wage grievances is greedy at best, criminal at worst: a selfish “my way or the grave” mentality.
Strike action is not the solution: it is the problem. Medical professionals can rise above this kind of meanness. Indeed, instead of a strike, the medical profession should embrace reform of the healthcare sector. After all, no one knows better than doctors that life expectancy is decreasing dramatically in this country no less thanks to the already prevailing harsh conditions of living. The Medical Guild could have taken a more responsible step, a move entirely in keeping with the finest altruistic traditions of the medical profession. Tragically, there is precious little sign of responsibility from the Medical Guild. It has become a reckless organization bent on self-service rather than self-sacrifice.
We need to fix our system. Wages come into it, but priority has to be ensuring hospitals have 24-hour electricity, sufficient medical supplies and so on. Once those things have been accomplished, once the people are fairly looked after, then maybe we’ll all have a little more sympathy for doctors’ quest for a pay rise.
Over to you.
*CONMESS = Consolidated Medical Salary Structure
*CONTISS = Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.