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Doctors’ strike amid COVID-19: Hell No!

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WHEN I read the news of some physicians embarking on “indefinite strike” in Anambra and Enugu states, I was shocked. Before I could ask ‘why?’, I expressed disbelief that medical practitioners, let alone doctors could chose a period of such a dire global health emergency as the current COVID-19 which has defied solution from even the WHO and the most leading nations of the world to drop tools.

  I wondered what matter could make a Nigerian physician think anybody would exonerate him or her of blame, complicity and quackery or even go after him if the ravaging COVID-19 kills people because he chose not to answer his call to duty. 

  I was so shocked and emotionally rattled by the development that I did not imagine any succinct reason why the doctors could justify the work action. I deemed the strike not worth any imagination either call or consideration given the saddism I sense in its timing.

I could not recall any nation where such a very manifest health epidemic that has caused the revocation and rescheduling of events that are almost cast on stone and forced the biggest economies of the world to lull could be approached with such indifference and disregard of public sensitivity. Most baffling to me is the immense social magnitude of the disregard of the Coronavirus’ danger in the east of Nigeria where the physicians in Anambra and Enugu operate. Even the most aloof will acknowledge the fact that given the first discovery of the easily communicated deadly respiratory disease in Wahun, China, and its now worldwide spread to nations where people who visit the Asian subcontinent go, Nigeria, particularly, her south-eastern zone is a prime suspect destination for the virus. Reason, the zone is sitting on a ticking tinderbox now. Being a huge hub of merchants and tourists who import wares or junket China it will be miraculous to find the east clean of COVID-19. Even tots can explain the diseases high possibility in the zone.

  From Onitsha’s Main Market and Nnewi’s Nkwo Market in Anambra State to Enugu State’s Ogbete Market in Enugu municipality; Aba’s Ariaria Market in Abia State and other major import traders’ complexes in South-East there are clans, cartels and caucauses of merchants who travel to China weekly. There is therefore no need for crystal balls for guessing the more likelihood of having COVID-19 cases in the zone more than any other part of Nigeria if not in the entire sub-Sahara Africa.

  When resident doctors therefore use the excuse of an agreement they had with federal government, three years ago to stop work during such a period when calamity is already at our door step, it is either they are so cowardly that they saw an impending professional challenge and opt to flee on flimsy excuses or they do not have the sense of commitment to their call as their colleagues in other regions whose areas do not even have the proclivity to the China-imported-ailment as the East but they chose to fight on their duty post. Such escapism and passing-the-bulk which is not a known trait of Igbo people brews disgust. It makes one begin to read obsession with wealth and lack of concern for their immediate society, anti-people arrogance, if not arrant foolhardiness and headiness in our medical people’s current work action.

  The more I probed the development, the more I thought of our physicians as nothing but mean opportunistic political actors who are deliberately leading the East to harakiri and mass-social suicide. And I asked myself: why are we so cursed?

Igbo maxim teaches that there are dance steps one does not engage in with a lump of tobacco snuff in his or her palm, no matter how pleasant one finds the snuff.  COVID-19 or the Coronavirus is not a development to joke or banter with. Let’s fight it first. Our people also say: onye ụnọ ya na-agba ọkụ a dị achụ oke (no one gets commended for chasing rats for meat when his house is on fire).

  One is not saying that our doctors have no serious issue but a poignant question is why other medics in other zones would opt to lay low amid the COVID-19 situation whereas ours do not mind that all of us die because they have financial demands. What have we done that we the citizens here should be so hated? There are things that are acceptable as politics and activism not obvious attempts to serve everybody with undeserved death sentences. Killing is killing. There is neither a justification nor rationalisation of it even if one opts to kill one’s self as the doctors could be doing to their associations if they understand the larger political import of their ongoing action.

  The worst that can happen to human life is dismissing its importance. The life of the human person is so sacrosant that there is, arguably, no faith that does not emphasise it. Life is life. It is neither secondary to food, wealth, belief, emotion or whatever factor nor equal to them. It is the supreme essence hence even the one who deems himself or herself to own his or her life cannot take it because it is divine and divinely provided.

  Life is not just about living things, it is about entire creation. It dwells on ethics, physicality and spirituality. Life is vital even for the agnostic and the atheist.

  However, it seems some people of contemporary time find life trivial as toy with it or make it object of any form of politics which buttresses the observation of Pope John Paul II that we now live in a world ruled by a “culture of death.” Excerpts from the pope’s encyclical, ‘Evengelum Vitae’ (Gospel of Life) captures how the world is fast-sliding from the sacrosancy of life thus:

  “The greatest risk in the modern time is that the value of life is today undergoing a kind of eclipse , even though conscience does not cease to point to it as a sacred and inviolable value, many complex factors contribute to this: a profound crisis of culture which generates skepticism in relation to the very foundation of knowledge and ethics, there are all kinds of existential and interpersonal difficulties made worse by the complexity of society which leaves persons and families alone with problems and uncertainties, situation of acute poverty, anxiety or frustration. This determines a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterised by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a culture of death.”

  This manner of irascible activism smacks of a long culture of seeing life as just ‘one of those things’ – nothing special. If any group should project such a value, it is not physicians who have taken the Hippocratic Oath which avows the sanctity of life and placing service above self. A section of the oath which doctors have been taking as mandatory pledge before qualification and certification states: “I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm”.

  Which doctor among those embarking on strike now does not know that his action puts our society in harm’s way?

And these physicians in the eastern states are mostly Christians, or claim to be deemed so. In Christianity, there is a branch of the Ecumenical movement concerned with the relation of Christian faith to society, politics and economics since early 20th century. In their Stockholm conference on life and work of 1925, the body held that Christian influences should be very noticeably promoted in political, social and economic life, especially in places where Christians hold sway.

  Reflections on the matter gets one livid. Even the judgement delivered earlier this week, by the industrial court sitting in Enugu, which restrained resident doctors in Enugu State University Teaching Hospital from joining the work action did not suffice in quelling one’s worry because COVID-19 is spreading in Nigeria already and the more time spent in the politics gives citizens fear and trauma.

  One is not pleased with the resident doctors’ option for extremity and would plead that they go back to work because any death out of their negligence is on them. But it is apt to whatever they claim should be addressed sincerely because every pointer in the current COVID-19 saga shows we are just hanging on luck we cannot continue to stretch our luck.

  It will be banal of me to dismiss the complaints of the resident doctors but on the scales that their matters are clearly mistimed and unimportant to society now that there is an emergency.  Truth be told, it is because elsewhere, outside Nigeria doctors earn a huge sums and Nigerian doctors as well as the medics are hot cake but that bellies the pecuniary undertone in the issue which should irk anyone with deeper conscience. Not all our physicians should flee abroad in quest for pastures. Remunerations and gratification are not all that are to life. Noble services are more treasurable and in times of great challenge that is when great men and women show up to write their names in the books of history. I still remember the late Dr. Stella Adedevwoh of the Ebola virus period. Not all such heroes or heroines have to die. So many survive the task and forever live larger than life as their legacies are magnified. “Good name,” it is said, “is better than silver and gold.”

  My last word on this is a plea to the doctors to know that we are in a  dire situation of emergency and in emergencies, the fireman’s mantra of ‘stop the fire first’ is the only thing that counts

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