Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ebola, striking doctors and Nigerian sports

It is a month today when the first index case of Ebola Viral Disease was recorded in Nigeria. On July 20, 2014, Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American imported the disease into our shores while attempting to attend an ECOWAS conference in Calabar, Cross Rivers State. Since that unfortunate incident, Nigerians have been ill-at-ease. With Boko Haram insurgents wreaking havoc in northern Nigeria and Ebola claiming lives in Lagos, in Southern Nigeria, indeed, my compatriots have cause to be apprehensive. More so, given the contagious nature of the disease and the high mortality rate of its victims. As of the time of writing this piece, only four lives had so far been lost to the virus while a total of five had been certified healed of the disease and discharged from isolation centre while over hundred others are being quarantined or under surveillance.
I join millions of Nigerians to commend the Lagos State Government, the Federal Government and the World Health Organisation for the timely intervention to curtail the spread of the disease. Thus far, but for an incorrigible nurse who travelled to Enugu in spite of medical warning not to journey out of Lagos being under surveillance, the case would have been limited to Lagos. As it is, six persons are said to be under surveillance for the virus in the Coal City having had contact with the infected nurse from Lagos. It is also noteworthy that the Federal Government on August 8 declared the EVD as a national emergency in Nigeria and has earmarked a princely N1.9bn intervention fund to combat the disease while Aliko Dangote, the business mogul and renowned philanthropist, has also donated a sum of N150m in support of fighting the scourge.
The World Health Organisation has equally declared the EVD as a global emergency and has approved of the use of trial drugs to fight the disease while also giving technical support to the Lagos and federal governments to fight the plague. Likewise, many state governments are preparing isolation centres for the treatment of the infected. The Federal Government has also made it mandatory for the screening of incoming and outbound passengers at our various ports, be it airports or seaports. I was screened at the Nanmdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja on my way from Port Harcourt last week, Tuesday, August 12. I have done this recap to show how the Nigerian government has risen boldly to the challenge of the EVD to the admiration of Nigerians and the global community. In fact, the Nigerian media deserves special kudos for the many enlightenment programmes, commentaries, editorials, jingles and advertorials they have been running ceaselessly as their own corporate social responsibilities particularly in the wake of misleading information that Ebola could be prevented or cured by chewing bitter kola and bathing with salt water.
Rather unfortunately, in spite of the accolades the Federal Government has been receiving, it took a very foolhardy step last Thursday by sacking about 16,000 resident doctors who have been on strike since July 1 before the outbreak of the EVD. It also announced the suspension of the Residency Training Programme in all its hospitals “pending the conclusion of the ongoing appraisal of the challenges in the health sector.” These actions, to say the least, are retrogressive and would only worsen a bad situation. Where does the Federal Government hope to source replacement for these sacked doctors? Even, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, who wielded a similar stick in May 2012 against striking doctors in the state, had to rescind that unpopular decision later.
As rightly observed by Dr. Osahon Enabulele, who is the immediate past president of Nigerian Medical Association, “Currently, Nigeria has an abysmal doctor-patient population ratio of 1: 6,300. With this action of the government, the ratio will further decline to about 1:15, 500. Similarly, the morbidity and mortality indices are sure to worsen on account of this shocking action of government.”
How I wish Nigeria’s ruling elite patronise our decadent public hospitals. Perhaps, they would have taken a different approach to resolving the current impasse between government and the striking doctors. While government claimed to have met 90 per cent of the 24 demands of the NMA, the doctors are saying there is no concrete evidence to show that government has met their requests. For instance, while some of the striking doctors have volunteered to help in the treatment of victims of Ebola, they complained of lack of protective gears for their operations. While government also claimed to have taken a life insurance policy for each of those health workers who are helping out in the containment and management of the Ebola scourge, government has yet to make open the details of the insurance policy as demanded by the doctors. What this means in essence is that the Federal Government is not transparent enough in resolving its issues with the striking doctors and this is not good enough.
If however we must blame the hawk for wickedness, let’s also scold the mother hen for exposing her children to danger. In all sincerity, in the interest of the suffering masses who are the ones bearing the brunt of this strike, the NMA should reconsider its hardline posture and suspend its industrial action. They should remember the immortal words of Oliver Goldsmith that, “He who fights and runs away may live to fight another day; But he who is battle slain, can never rise to fight again.”
Tragically, though the menace of Ebola has yet to be of epidemic proportion in Nigeria, it is disheartening that the Chinese Youth Olympics authorities decided to stigmatise and quarantine Nigerian athletes who travelled to that Asian country for this year’s Youth Olympics. Reports said despite none of the 12 athletes tested positive to the EVD, they were quarantined and barred from participating in contact sports like wrestling. The embarrassment led to the Nigerian contingent withdrawing from the competition. I also learnt that Kenya has placed a 30-day quarantine on Nigerian footballers who are going to be transiting through their country to Windhoek in Namibia for a football match.
Lesotho has also refused to come to Nigeria to honour an Under-20 football match. This is ridiculous and preposterous! The Nigerian government, the Nigerian Olympic Committee and the Nigerian Football Federation must write strongly worded protest letters to China and Kenya over this ill-treatment. It is the height of insensitivity and erroneous judgment to stigmatise a whole country over an infection that has largely been contained and which only affect a fraction of one out 36 states. Moreover, if after an appropriate testing without any confirmation of the EVD, shouldn’t that be sufficient to calm their frayed nerves?As many sports analysts have observed, if the Federal Government did not rise in protest of these incredulous acts, soon Nigeria will be barred from participating in virtually all global sporting competitions including officiating. This will rub off negatively on our sports development. A stich in time saves nine.