Ngozi Ezeokeke slowly wheeled her aged mother through the corridors of the Federal Medical Centre, Jabi, on Saturday, and the patient’s pains were clear on her face. She was drooling, her neck dropped to the shoulders. “Her condition has worsened because nurses are not around to give her regular therapy,” a visibly aggrieved Ms Ezeokeke said. Her mother had a stroke, and was at the Jabi hospital, one of many public hospitals in Abuja abandoned by health workers who have been on strike for three weeks now.
The nation-wide strike was called by JOHESU, a body that comprises all health workers except doctors. As a result, laboratories have been shut with no technicians and technologists to run them, and there are also no staff to collect patients’ records, too. Patients’ are worst hit as nurses and midwives — some of the most influential members of JOHESU (Joint Health Sector Unions) — have all gone on strike. “Since last week, we have been coming here but nobody will attend to us. We just want to withdraw and move her to another facility,” Ms Ezeokeke said of her mum.
For now, the strike affects all federal hospitals across the country, and the striking union has vowed to press their state and local government counterparts to join, to bring maximum pressure on the federal government. While that happens, patients and pregnant women, in desperate need of help are either being rejected, suffering or dying. At first glance, nothing appeared amiss at the Jabi Hospital. About 20 patients sat quietly at the registration unit Saturday evening, taking turns to meet an attendant who said they were providing “skeletal” services. “What we are doing is just skeletal work and nothing serious,” the male attendant explained.
“Some of these patients only came to process transfers to other facilities. All the staff you are seeing here apart from medical doctors are just locum staff employed for this strike period at least to take care of some emergency cases,” he said. Most of the patients at the Jabi facility who spoke with Premium Times said they were at the centre to effect referrals or do some paper works. National Hospital Abuja Just like the Centre at Jabi, the National Hospital bore telltale signs of desertion. From the entrance of the hospital, the usually busy hospital was a shadow of itself as only few cars were seen going in and out. Inside, the hospital was deserted as only a few doctors and security personnel were seen around. The accident and emergency unit was quiet. At the front desk were only one doctor and a patient. Inside the ward, five people were on the beds and two doctors were seen attending to them. The doctors, however, were not willing to speak with journalists, saying they were busy and not authorised to speak.
The radiology, paediatrics and labour units were almost empty, most of the wards were not occupied. Most of the offices were also under lock, as were the laboratories, pharmacies, stores, finance office and other departments. Though there were patients in some of the wards, they were not in the usual large numbers and the usually busy corridors were almost empty. The normal sight of patients being wheeled through the corridors was missing. At the paediatric ward, four doctors were on duty, but only one child was in the ward. All the other beds were not occupied.
A doctor, who asked not to be named, said they had been having an easy week, compared to when the hospital was fully functioning. He said though they still had to go to the hospital and attend to patients, “there is little we can do.” He expressed concern that they would be overwhelmed when the striking workers resume as patients who had been forced to stay away would troop into the hospital. Yusuf Audi said his mother was admitted to the hospital on Friday on referral from Kaduna. He said she was being treated at the state general hospital but her case required the attention of specialists who were not available at the general hospital. “We were referred here because the health workers at the teaching hospital in Kaduna are on strike her doctors said she needs urgent attention from a consultant.
We came in last night. At first they did not want to attend to us and wanted to refer us somewhere else, but they changed their mind when they saw her condition. “Since last night it has not been easy as there are no nurses, ward attendants and laboratory personnel on ground. I have been the one running around. I had to take her on my back to the ultrasound unit this morning. “And I am just coming back from where I went to buy drugs for her. The pharmacy is not open. There was a drug they needed for her last night, but they couldn’t get it because of the strike,” he said. The security personnel at the entrance of one of the wards said activities in the hospital had dwindled as mostly doctors were around.
They said the bulk of the activities were happening at the accident and emergency unit. Taxi drivers, hawkers lament Even commercial motorists at the hospital were few and sat idly under a tree in front of the hospital gate. They also felt the impact of the strike. A taxi driver, who gave his name as Uche, said people were not coming to the hospital. “I have spent three hours at the gate before you came. No passengers. It is not usually so. The maximum waiting time to get a passenger is 10 minutes and you may even take them around to buy drugs and other stuff .
We are not happy with the situation,” he said. Even the usual hawkers of fruits like oranges, banana, water melon and other consumables in the front axis of the facility were nowhere to be seen. There were no people to sell to.