Resident doctors, currently participating in a five-day warning strike to protest poor working conditions, are now shedding light on the ethical predicament they face when forced to choose between their own welfare and the lives of their patients. This unprecedented situation raises concerns about the doctors’ oath to prioritize patient care, leaving them torn between their professional duties and the urgent needs of those on life support, requiring immediate medical attention, or awaiting surgery.
In times of social unrest, war, or peace, it is exceedingly rare for doctors and healthcare workers to abandon their patients—especially those in critical condition or in need of intensive care. The medical oath emphasizes the importance of recognizing the art of medicine, emphasizing warmth, sympathy, and understanding over surgical interventions or pharmaceutical treatments. Unfortunately, this compassion seems to be lacking when resident doctors in Nigeria embark on industrial action, leaving patients to fend for themselves.
The repercussions of the ongoing strike are evident as patients scheduled for surgeries have seen their appointments canceled, with uncertainty looming over when they will receive the essential procedures they desperately need. Mariam Azu, a patient at the Federal Medical Centre in Asaba, Delta State, expressed her anguish at the postponement of her surgery, resulting in severe pain and the need for daily injections to cope. Numerous patients find themselves in similar distressing situations.
Dr. Mbooh Romeo, President of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Yenagoa, addresses the criticisms levied against doctors who participate in strikes, highlighting the necessity for their own well-being to provide quality care. The World Medical Association’s revised physician’s oath acknowledges the crucial role doctors’ own care plays in their ability to attend to patients. Dr. Romeo emphasizes that doctors in Nigeria face numerous financial responsibilities, including support for their families and societal obligations.
Yobe State, heavily affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, struggles with healthcare services that have deteriorated over the years, intensifying the desperation among its people. The Yobe State wing of NARD refrained from joining the nationwide warning strike due to the state government’s provision of support, state-of-the-art equipment, and improved working conditions. They recognize that joining the strike would further impede the post-insurgency recovery process in the healthcare sector.
In Sokoto, doctors at state-owned hospitals continue to attend to an influx of patients, as individuals seek treatment after relocating from the Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital. These doctors chose not to join the strike as the state government has consistently paid their salaries and fulfilled their entitlements. Similarly, the RSUTH branch of NARD in Rivers State did not participate in the strike, while their counterparts in UPTH did.
For doctors in federal government-owned hospitals, the strike poses a significant challenge, as they grapple with demanding better working conditions while also prioritizing patient care. Dr. Calab Ekuri, NARD chairman at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, acknowledges the moral obligation to save lives but stresses the importance of ensuring doctors’ well-being and ability to support their families. He emphasizes that doctors deserve fair remuneration to cope with the harsh economic realities they face.