Nike Adebowale, Premiumtimes
Amidst the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent spike in infection cases, Nigerian health workers have called for an increase in their hazard allowance as they are major front liners in the fight against the pandemic.
Speaking at a webinar recently, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Innocent Ujah, said all health workers are being paid N5,000 a month as hazard allowance, a sum he described as degrading and insulting.
“At the moment, health workers are being paid N5,000 as hazard allowance despite an increased risk in dying and ill health. This is an insult,” he said.
The webinar, titled ‘Citizens’ Response to Covid-19 Second Wave and the State of the Health Sector in Nigeria’, was organised by the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 And Beyond (ASCAB), a coalition of over 80 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and organised labour, led by Femi Falana.
Hazard pay, a wage supplement paid to workers who do dangerous jobs, has been the grouse of Nigerian health workers since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic.
Health workers, being the first respondents to patients, have continued to be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 virus.
Although health workers have been advised to use full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) before attending to patients, many do not have access to this equipment and as a result, over a thousand health workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Nigeria.
As of July, over 10,000 health workers in 40 Africa countries have been infected with COVID-19 virus, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The NMA recently announced the deaths of 20 doctors within a week from complications arising from coronavirus, a news President Muhammadu Buhari described as ‘sad’.
Following a report by PREMIUM TIMES in April, the Nigerian government promised a special COVID-19 hazard and inducement allowance of 50 per cent of Consolidated Basic Salary to health workers in Nigerian Teaching Hospitals, Federal Medical Centres (FMCs), and designated COVID-19 centres for the first three months.
The report disclosed how nurses and midwives taking care of COVID-19 patients said they had no life insurance and were not receiving any special hazard allowance different from that embedded in their salaries.
An entry-level federal doctor or dentist earns an annual consolidated earning of about ₦1.7 million ($4,722), rising to ₦8.5 million ($23,611) for the highest grade, as stipulated in the 2019Consolidated Medical Salary Scale (CONMESS).
Of this, hazard allowance is ₦60,000 ($167) per annum for medical workers at all grades, said Olanrewaju Amusat, Executive Director of SmileBuilders Initiative.
But several months after, some health workers are yet to receive the promised hazard allowances. A situation that has prompted doctors under the aegis of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and members of JOHESU to down tools in September.
Obinna Ogbonna, President, Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals, said some health workers are yet to receive the hazard allowances while others were paid sub standard.
He said many of the workers are discouraged to face the second wave of the pandemic due to unfair treatment melted out on them.
“The government do not work their talk. They promised us that they will give inducement hazard allowance but they did this for only three months and until date, some of our members have not collected their COVID-19 hazard allowances,” he said.
Mr Ogbonna also said “the life insurance promised never came to reality, it’s only on the papers.”
Biobelemoye Josiah, President of the Joint Health Sector Unions and Assembly of Healthcare Professionals (JOHESU) said health workers are not treated fairly despite the increased risk of losing their lives.
He said his leadership is under pressure to withdraw from the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But we are still here because of our human feelings,” he said. He noted that the ministry of health must bring everybody as a united force and must be treated fairly to defeat the pandemic.
In his remarks, Mr Falana said no sector in Nigeria has suffered more than the health sector during this pandemic.
He called for a massive increase in funding of public health to enable the survival of COVID-19 and beyond, “to protect our health workers from COVID-19 and other diseases.”