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Strike paralyses health services

Patients at Yola hospital in Adamawa state are at the mercy of a health-workers strike, ongoing since 25 June 2009 Aminu Abubakar/IRIN
A health worker strike in northern Nigeria’s Adamawa state has paralysed public hospitals, forcing patients to forgo medical treatment.

Most of the state’s 7,000 health workers, including nurses, specialists and administrators but not general doctors, began an indefinite strike on 25 June to protest the suspension of an improved salary structure by the state government, according to head of the health workers union Babangida Philibus.

People requiring medical care are frightened. Wada Jibrin broke his leg in a car crash on 16 July and requires continued orthopaedic care. “I’m praying that the strike is called off so that I can go back to hospital and continue receiving treatment. I fear I may lose my leg if the strike is prolonged because my case needs specialized care.”

Ahmad Abdulhamid, a physician at state-run Yola Specialist Hospital, told IRIN: “The industrial strike action has forced all in-patients to go back home because there is no one to nurse them here….We have been reduced to mere consultancy clinics where we only examine patients, diagnose their ailments and prescribe drugs for them to buy at drug stores.”

He said the situation is dire in public hospitals across the state. “Only a few patients who can afford high medical fees have moved to private clinics, while [most] have resigned to their homes hoping the matter is soon resolved and the strike suspended.”

Cholera response affected

Aliyu Sambo, head of the Nigeria Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), told IRIN the strike hindered the government’s emergency response to flood and cholera victims.

A cholera outbreak in August and September 2009 killed 70 people and left 746 hospitalized, according to Adamawa information commissioner Musa Bubakari.

The government relied on volunteers from NEMA and the Nigerian Red Cross to assist cholera victims in hospitals.

Union leader Philibus said: “The government should take responsibility for all the people who are suffering from sicknesses as a result of the ongoing strike because the government caused it. Deaths in the recent cholera outbreak could have been avoided were health workers not on strike.” 

Access to adequate healthcare is poor in much of northern Nigeria according to the UN, and the country is not on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals to reduce maternal mortality or improve maternal health. Life expectancy for Nigerians is 46.6 years.

Why the strike

The Adamawa state government on 9 June suspended a new salary package introduced in August 2008 for health workers in public hospitals. The package increased basic salaries for hospital staff from US$56 a month to $84, according to union head Philibus.

The state government says it is suspending the structure while it eliminates a problem of ghost workers in the health sector.

“The suspension of the new salary structure became imperative following mounting salary bills and allegations of a high number of ghost workers in the sector, in the face of dwindling government revenues due to the economic crunch,” Saidu Bobbo, permanent secretary in Adamawa health ministry, told IRIN. He said once the problem is resolved the new salary structure will resume.

Health workers have said they will strike until the government reinstates the higher wages. Philibus said the government should have consulted unions before taking action.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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