By John Ikani
President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday appealed to the striking members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to return to their duty posts, while negotiations continue to resolve the conflict.
Buhari also urged others contemplating strikes to opt for settlement of issues by negotiation, no matter how long it takes.
The President made the appeal while receiving members of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) at the State House.
He said the lives of citizens that could be lost or damaged when doctors withdraw services, are precious enough to be worth opting for peaceful resolution of differences.
While assuring that all outstanding benefits owed to medical doctors would be cleared after verifications, Buhari said his administration has a good track record of paying all debts owed to government workers, pensioners and contractors, and has even revisited debts left by past administrations, once due verification is done.
Speaking further, Buhari revealed that budgetary allocations had been increased and a Health Sector Reform Committee, under the Chairmanship of the Vice President, had been inaugurated.
The committee will identify and address weaknesses in the Health System and align it with global best practices that raise public confidence.
“We are also supporting initiatives to expand health insurance coverage and bring more resources to health financing.
“We have many more challenges ahead and much more to do, for our large population.
“In this respect, it is important to remind you that, as senior medical personnel and representatives of one of the most respected professional groups in the world, your responsibility for the health and wellbeing of Nigerians are clear.
“It does not end only with the welfare of your members, but continues with a sense of responsibility for the entire country and its sociopolitical health and national stability,’’ he added.
Responding, President of the NMA, Prof. Innocent Ujah, thanked the President for appointment of members into strategic positions in government, assent to the Medical Residency Act and immunization coverage.
Ujah said the association was concerned with the industrial action embarked on by doctors, and had been doing its best to alleviate the suffering of patients across the country, while appealing for an urgent resolution.
The NMA president thanked Buhari for takeoff grant for first Federal Universities of Health Sciences in Otukpo, Benue State; Azare, Bauchi State and Ila Orangun, Osun State.
Ujah, however, suggested an appropriate funding module for the new institutions.
He assured the President of the continuous support of members of the association to improve health in the country.
It would be recalled that NARD declared the strike action on July 30 at its National Executive Council meeting with the theme ‘The Nigerian Doctor, An Endangered Species: Grappling With a Pandemic, Poor Workplace Infrastructure And Security Threats.’
Announcing the action would begin on August 2 after the meeting held in Umuahia, Abia State, the National President of NARD, Dr Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, had cited the failure of the federal government to implement the agreements it entered into with the union 113 days after it suspended the previous strike.