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As doctors desert Kogi

The issue of non-payment of workers and poor welfare was brought to the fore with the disclosure last week that 88 doctors had left the Kogi State civil service since the commencement of the Yahaya Bello administration. This was disclosed by the state chapter of the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA. The association’s chairman, Dr Kabiru Zubair, in a statement to felicitate with the governor on his third year anniversary in office, appealed to the state government to take urgent steps to halt doctors’ exit.

Zubair said, “Under this administration, 88 doctors have left the Kogi Civil Service; 79 previously, plus another nine who had succeeded in securing new employment recently.” He said doctors and other health care workers are the drivers of healthcare delivery anywhere in the world. “Payment of outstanding salary arrears of doctors and other health care workers; implementation of the corrected CONMESS, promotion and annual step increment among others, are needed to reverse this unfortunate trend,” he said.

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A few days later, Kogi State government granted express approval to Kogi State Hospitals Management Board (KSHMB) and Kogi State Specialist Hospital, Lokoja (KSSHL) to replace the doctors who left. Commissioner for Health Dr Haruna Saka said measures were being taken to end further exit of doctors. He said approval was also given to the State Specialist Hospital to commence internship training for doctors and also to acquire capacity to train Resident Doctors. According to him, the governor had granted welfare packages to such new doctors “including interest free loan facilities to help them acclimatize when they come in, in addition to approval given to implement the Sokoto template, an arrangement where doctors in federal institutions in the state also work in state owned facilities that are understaffed.”

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On the mass exit of doctors from the state service, Dr Saka said, “It has been a recurring trend to see doctors leave State Service once Federal Government opportunity presents itself such as lift of ban on employment of Resident Doctors. Doctors who intend to undergo postgraduate training usually migrate towards Federal Service because till date, only very few states have the capacity to train Resident Doctors.”

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It is disheartening to say the least that doctors who are already in short supply in states across the country are being forced to leave the service due to poor welfare and non-payment of salaries.  Kogi State has remained in the news for non-payment of salaries despite receiving the Paris Club refund and bailouts from the Federal Government. The doctors’ situation is only a mirror of the fate of workers in all sectors of the state. Doctors however have a very direct impact on human lives.  The masses depend on government hospitals for health care and at no point are there enough doctors to cater to them. For 88 doctors to leave the service is nothing short of a catastrophe.

The only option left for hapless citizens is private hospitals, which are usually not affordable.  Despite the fact that doctors were leaving the state en masse, the state government did not consider it necessary to address the situation until NMA cried out. Furthermore, the Kogi State government’s response is not good enough.  Giving approval for the recruitment of fresh doctors alone may not help. Unless the problem is tackled from its source, it is only a matter of time before the new doctors follow the path of those who left. The issue of salaries and welfare must be looked into. Health, like security, is critical to the development of any society and no government can claim to be working if its health sector is sick.

Governor Yahaya Bello needs to do something urgently about the salaries and welfare of doctors and workers generally in the state. If the current state of affairs is allowed to persist, it is the best and most marketable workers that will be the first to leave, after which Kogi State will not have much of a “service” left.

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