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NMA, Medical Guild raise alarm over alleged harassment of health workers


Drama unfolds as doctors and nurses run away after suspected coronavirus case

The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has appealed to the Federal and Lagos State Governments to advise the Nigeria Police Force against harassing and preventing health workers from discharging their duties.

The NMA made the plea in a statement jointly signed by Dr Saliu Oseni and Dr Ramon Moronkola, the Lagos State Chairman and Secretary of the association respectively, on Wednesday in Lagos.

President, Maj.Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, following health advisory on increasing cases of COVID-19, had on March 29 announced a 14-day lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun with effect from 11.00 p.m on March 30.

Buhari had said that the restriction period would enable the government to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that had come in contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

He, however, noted that the restriction exempts health workers, food manufacturers and retailers, journalists, pharmacies, petroleum distribution and retail entities, power generation, transmission and distribution companies, among others.

The NMA leaders said they received a few unsavoury reports from their members pertaining to the enforcement of restriction on movements leading to their harassment.

“Medical doctors are not unmindful of the great responsibility that the profession places on them at difficult times like these, especially considering the need to continue to keep the hospitals open and attend to other life threatening conditions outside COVID-19.

“These services are also rendered at both public and private facilities,” they said.

The NMA leaders said that the attention of the association was drawn to comments made by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr Hakeem Odumosu, and aired on TVC News at 1.20 p.m on March 31, that health workers, asides presenting their valid means of identification, must show evidence of being on duty, whenever they move around the state.

“The NMA is at pains to decipher the logic behind the call by the Commissioner of Police for doctors and other health workers to carry evidence of being on duty.

“Is the CP suggesting that health workers engage in “illegal duty” or wander about aimlessly. Perhaps, the police chief underestimates the enormity of the work at hand.

“For the avoidance of doubt, all hands are needed on deck at this critical time. Several countries have already called thousands of health workers out of retirement.

“In peace time, the health system in the country suffered from shortages of healthcare workers.

“It, therefore, stands to reason that the ongoing war against COVID-19 demands the mobilisation of all hands and not curious statements, such as the one credited to the police chief.

“They are capable of creating unnecessary bottlenecks for our members and other healthcare workers.

“It is also imperative for the police chief police to realise that the health workers are always on duty as you can be called to report at any and all times, also that the other ancillary health staff are part of health team,” they said.

The NMA leaders added that the statement was capable of exposing health workers to further unwarranted harassment by personnel of the Nigeria Police.

They noted that at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National body mobilised doctors all over the country to meet the challenge posed by the disease.

“Indeed, our members, in several states suspended legitimate demands for unpaid salaries and other emoluments in order to focus solely on the fight against COVID-19.

“Presently, our stoic members are on the frontline deploying their knowledge and skills, at great risk to their lives, against the COVID-19 pandemic, while others are trying to keep the hospitals for other medical conditions,” they said.

According to them, health workers are the first line of defence and the last line of retreat in the ongoing pandemic, thus calling for the support and collaboration of other stakeholders to effectively discharge their duties.

The NMA leaders warned that any further harassment of their members by the Police
would elicit a strong response from the association.

They urged their members to remain vigilant and maintain high index of suspicion to every ailment presented at health facilities, while advising citizens to stay at home and observe all necessary precautions.

They reassured the public of their availability round the clock to treat and preserve their health.

Similarly, Dr Oluwajimi Sodipo, the Chairman, Lagos Medical Guild, called on the Lagos State Government to prevail on security operatives to allow all healthcare workers easy access on roads to provide services in the hospitals.

“We strongly urge the Commissioner of Police to retract his directive which will lead to loss of lives of members of the public unnecessarily.

“Majority of these harassed members required the physical intervention of other doctors before they were released by the overzealous security agents,” Sodipo said.

He commended all health workers who had taken up the task of caring for COVID-19 and other patients in all the hospitals.

Sodipo expressed optimism that Lagos and Nigeria would soon be declared free of the pandemic.