It is different strokes for different folks as a result of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While so many jobs have been lost and more would be lost in some sectors as businesses gradually and selectively reopen globally, the threat of the pandemic appears to be ramping up job opportunities for doctors, nurses and other health workers in Nigeria, like in most other countries.
Presently, the biggest worry for most countries should be whether the medical system has enough ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to treat patients with COVID19, but another troubling shortage is on the horizon- doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel.
Research has revealed that as the number of patients continues to rise nationwide and more healthcare workers are unable to show up for work, having contracted the virus or because of self-quarantine, shortages of trained health workers are growing, with a very real risk of provider shortages in areas hit hard by the pandemic, due to increase in number of patients and doctors and nurses falling ill from or being exposed to the virus.
In Nigeria, dozens of health workers have already tested positive for the virus and hundreds of others have been exposed, forcing them to self-quarantine, just as preliminary research from China suggests that infected healthcare workers tend to have more serious cases of the virus than expected for people of their age.
Critics said the implications of a shortage would be devastating both to overworked personnel and the patients for whom receiving medical attention could be a life-or-death matter.
The Guardian reliably gathered that the top priority for most hospitals right now is the shortage of PPEs, including masks, N95 respirators and gowns, even as medical workers have resorted to reusing masks and eye-shields when treating multiple patients, against the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s (NCDC) recommendations, thereby increasing the risk of being infected and spreading it to patients.
It is believed that the shortage of PPEs could make it even more difficult to treat an incoming wave of patients with the virus.
Indeed, some state and local governments have already started preparing for the possibility of a personnel shortage by recruiting volunteers without any medical training, even as the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has asked former medical workers to come out of retirement to deal with the increased patient load. The Institute of Human Virology also recently advertised so many vacancies for health and communications-related jobs.
To address the situation, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said the federal government has improved working conditions by offering healthcare workers hazard allowances and life insurance, as well as motivating them in other ways, at the same time bringing out medical experts from retirement and asking volunteers to report and train them in Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) protocol to avert incidents taking them to quarantine and out of service.
Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health workers in Nigeria are also getting more pay because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) offering to pay N50, 000 daily hazard allowance to all medical doctors providing various services in the fight against the virus in the country’s capital.
Acting Secretary of the FCTA, Mohammed Kawo, disclosed at the FCT briefing on COVID-19 that nurses and laboratory technicians involved in the process would be paid N30, 000 daily, while drivers and cleaners are to be paid N20, 000 daily.
But Ehanire told The Guardian: “The government did not give salary increase, but thought it fair that life insurance and hazard allowance be given to all persons who put their lives at risk in handling patients suffering from this disease, including laboratory scientists, cleaners, nurses, doctors, etc, who man isolation centres for the days they work.”
But the President of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, told The Guardian: “The true picture is that we have continued to earn the same old poor salaries, while facing grave and life-threatening challenges of COVID-19 and Lassa Fever. We have read and heard a lot on plans and proposals to improve our hazard allowances, but no such thing has happened yet.
In places like Kaduna State, Governor Nasir El-Rufai, who only recently himself recovered from COVID-19, has even slashed the salaries of healthcare workers by 25 per cent of the old poor rate. We still are battling non-availability of PPEs and poor training of healthcare workers on the other hand.”
Asked if they are getting more pay now compared to before, Sokomba said: “Not at all. Some are in fact earning less in Kaduna State, while for most others, we earn same and in fact spend more now due to having to buy some PPEs for ourselves to stay safe, like sanitisers, masks, etc, since we cannot be given enough by government even at this time.”
On whether the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK) and Canada are seeking to import Nigerian doctors and nurses, Sokomba responded: “I am not sure of that, but the reality is that healthcare workers are most needed everywhere now and in short supply. We need to be encouraged, supported and protected, not the sad and condemnable treatment being meted on our colleagues by the Kaduna State government.”
Regarding what NMA and NARD and the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) are doing about this, he said: “We keep advocating and encouraging governments everywhere to provide commensurate welfare and insurance packages for healthcare workers at this most needed time.”
“We hope the federal government will implement the recently discussed review package for health care workers’ hazard allowances, as some of our colleagues are already infected and dying even before seeing any of these promises.”
When asked whether the threat of shortage of doctors and other health workers is palpable, he replied: “Most certainly. There are shortages from increasing healthcare workers’ infections since over 70 of them are now infected and counting deaths and some who are even considering resigning from service, like in Kaduna State. We are concerned and believe Nigerians should be even more concerned. It is not about the doctors or health care workers alone,” he said.
National President of National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) and Vice President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Abdrafiiu Alani Adeniji, told The Guardian: “It is the reality of our times; the health workers are facing great risks, but they are also in high demand now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our services are needed at every tier of government now and the incentives have also improved.”
Also, a professor of Pharmacology and pioneer Director General/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Abuja, Charles Wambebe, said: “It is a good development. Once the new staffs are recruited, they will be trained, thereafter, they can serve.
Definitely, the NCDC is overwhelmed by this pandemic, just like similar organisations in the world. Human capacity building is critical for us to adequately address the challenges of Coronavirus. For example, even if we have enough testing kits, reagents, etc, we still need trained staff to take samples and carry out the tests.”
A school of thought also believes that the health sector may be better for it after the pandemic, because the situation must have forced governments to invest in strengthening the sector and employing more doctors and nurses.
Wambebe concurred, saying: “However, our governments both at the state and federal levels must maintain the momentum even after this pandemic.”
The Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN) on Friday, April 24, published a one and half pages vacancy advert for several health-related positions.
The IHVN, established in 2004 as an affiliate of the Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore in the US, has grown to become a leading local non-governmental organisation addressing the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) crises in Nigeria.
At a time some Nigerians are losing their jobs, the IHVN advertised for a Private Sector Specialist, Senior Programme Officer and Prevention Care and Treatment (PCT) and Director of Strategic Information (DSI), while the NCDC on April 14, advertised recruitment for short-term consultancy for Surveillance Data Clerks in 12 molecular laboratories; data officers in Lagos and the FCT, Surveillance Support Officers in 19 states and Human Health Sector Coordinator, REDISSE Project.
The NCDC, the government agency with the mandate to coordinate the surveillance, detection and response to infectious disease outbreaks, has in the last three years deployed a new tool for disease surveillance- the Surveillance, Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System (SORMAS)-, a system jointly developed in collaboration with the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) to improve disease surveillance and detection and management of outbreaks, thereby strengthening the public health service in Nigeria.
As most developed nations run short of doctors and nurses and are willing to fill the vacancies with professionals from Nigeria, President of the NMA, Dr. Francis Faduyile, had in December last year raised the alarm over shortage of healthcare practitioners in the country, saying only 42,000 doctors were available for Nigeria’s population of over 200 million people.
Faduyile listed high rate of insecurity, poor job satisfaction, low remuneration, unemployment, bad roads and poor healthcare system as some of the reasons Nigerian doctors and other healthcare practitioners were leaving the country for greener pastures abroad.
He disclosed that out of the 75,000 Nigerian doctors registered with the body, over 33,000 have left the country, leaving behind only about 42,000 to man all health institutions in the country.
Meanwhile, a new report from the US indicated that the country was planning to bring in doctors and nurses from abroad. The US health system already relies heavily on immigrants, who make up 17 per cent of all health care workers and more than one in four doctors.
The US was projected to face a shortage of doctors before the pandemic and every year, roughly 4,000 foreign doctors go to the US on J-1 visas for residencies at teaching hospitals, which rely on medicare funding to pay their salaries. While most of those doctors would like to stay in the country after completing their training, only about 1,500 of them are ultimately able to do so, as they are required to return to their home countries for at least two years upon completing their training to be eligible for an H-1B skilled worker visa or a green card, unless they can obtain one of a few sought-after waivers.
Also, according to Canadian Immigration Law Firm (CANADIM), Canada needs more foreign healthcare workers to fight COVID-19.
As the fight to stop the spread of Coronavirus continues, those on the frontlines are increasingly at risk and Canadian doctors and nurses are desperately trying to keep themselves safe amidst an escalating global health crisis and lack of protective gear. Now more than ever, Canada needs to support its healthcare system by allowing qualified foreign nationals to enter the country.