Posted by Nicholas Kalu, Calabar | 27 July 2019 | 500 times
Mrs Rose Effiong, whose eight-year-old daughter has been receiving treatment at the General Hospital on Mary Slessor Road in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, suddenly learnt that the doctor attending to her child would no longer be doing so. At the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH), another patient, David Ekpe, is getting ready for an appendicitis operation, but also gets the same story: “Sorry, there will be no doctor to attend to you.”
The two cases above represent the stories of thousands of patients in Cross River State who doctors had to leave all of a sudden. What seems to make it worse is that the doctors’ withdrawal of services is for indefinite period. So, if patients who suddenly found themselves abandoned are in dire need of medical attention from a doctor, they would have to get it elsewhere.
Besides the health inconvenience this may cause, there is also the cost implications it has for the people who may not have enough money to seek medical attention elsewhere, maybe in a private hospital or outside the state.
Doctors in the state had decided to abandon their patients because one of them (doctors) was kidnapped by gunmen. Dr Marcus Inyama, a consultant haematologist with UCTH, was on his way home in Akpabuyo Local Government Area of the state in the evening of penultimate Thursday when he was abducted. At the time of filing this report, he was yet to be released.
Following the development, the NMA, after an emergency congress the following day, ordered immediate withdrawal of doctors’ services from all hospitals in the state. A communiqué signed by state chairman of NMA, Dr Agam Ayuk, and Secretary, Dr Ezoke Epoke, said the strike would continue until Inyama is released safely and unconditionally.
“NMA is not unmindful of the impact of a strike action on the good people of the state. However, we cannot continue to save lives while ours is under constant threat by armed bandits and kidnappers,” the statement said.
But while the doctors in the state believe that this step is necessary to address the situation, those who feel the real pains are thousands of patients who can no longer be attended to because of the strike action.
A visit to hospitals across the state capital revealed a lull in activities. It was observed that nurses and other health workers attended to patients, but not those in critical conditions. It was also observed that only the hospitals belonging to the Police and the Navy had doctors on duty. Some private hospitals also had doctors working too. Patients in critical conditions who needed the attention of doctors were being moved to these hospitals.
“Most of the doctors have all left. A few of them are still around but would not attend to anybody. Anybody who wants to get any doctor’s attention should go to a private hospital or wait till they call off the strike,” one of the nurses at the UCTH said.
Chairman of the NMA, Dr Agam Ayuk, in a chat with The Nation, said they were not happy about the development, and had to take the painful decision to ensure that the problem was addressed.
According to him, in the past two years there had been at least six incidents of doctors being kidnapped, saying the government needed to do more in terms of security.
“It is an unfortunate event. For us as medical professionals, we are worried and we feel that government, whose primary responsibility is security and the welfare of the people, should do more.
“We wouldn’t say any government sits down and wants these things to continue, but we feel they should re-strategise and see how they can improve and let Cross Riverians enjoy the peace.
“For us as doctors, we work both day and night. If we are not safe to work how do we save lives when our own lives are at risk? When you look at the kidnappings, they don’t kidnap you on the streets. It’s either in your home or your place of work or place of worship and all that.
“We cannot just sit back and see things go as if nothing is happening. I think we need to hold those we have elected into public office accountable. Let them do more.
“We are also appealing to the security agencies. They are putting their lives at risk, but we think they can do more to secure us, so that we can have peace and economic productivity in the state.
“The decision to withdraw services is a very painful one because our calling is a divine one, to save lives and give people second chances as God permits.
“When you see us make certain decisions, we have critically looked at the impact, and we are not unmindful of the fact that the action negatively impacts on the society.
“We think that for doctors to withdraw services even for a minute, it has a lot of implications. What we are saying is that let those whose responsibility it is to protect us do more.
“We are not saying the life of our colleague is more important that the life of every other Cross Riverians. We are saying that as a group, we cannot just sit back and allow things go down the drain. Let the authorities do more.
“We are not protesting against the people of the state; we are just saying that the people we voted into office should do more to protect us.
“The decision is not that of the chairman; it is the decision of congress. Congress has the final say on what we can do. But, in fact, we are more worried that it has taken longer than expected,” Ayuk said.
Also chairman of the Association of Residents Doctors, UCTH Branch, Dr Imoke Echeng, frowned at the recurring menace of kidnapping doctors in the state and called on the government and security agencies in the state to do their best to secure Inyama’s release and curb the security challenges affecting the people of the state.
On Thursday, the doctors took to the streets to protest the kidnap of their member. They visited the House of Assembly as well as the Governor’s Office to register their protest.
Speaking after the protest, Ayuk said eight doctors and six dependants had been kidnapped in Cross River in the last four years. He said the protest was meant to demand the safe release of Dr Inyama.
He said that the association found it necessary to visit the assembly with a view to calling on the legislature to intervene in the situation, which he described as “worrisome and disturbing.”
He said: “On July 18, 2019, one of our colleagues, Dr Marcus, was kidnapped on his way to his house. Since then, he has been in the hands of the captives and they are demanding very outrageous sums of money, which we know is very difficult for doctors to pay.
“This is the 14th kidnapping of doctors and their dependants across the state within the last four years. We work day and night and we feel that we are not safe in carrying out our responsibility of saving lives. And if we are not safe, we cannot save lives.
“People are on call and we cannot go out of our houses to attend to them. So we have to withdraw our services to strengthen the hands of government to do more in providing security.
“As we speak, many people are being kidnapped in Cross River day and night, and we believe that the government whose primary responsibility is security and welfare of the people should do more to protect us.
“Cross River is no longer safe for us. We hope that this issue will be taken as an urgent matter of public importance, because we want the unconditional release of our colleague.”
The Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr Eteng Jonas-Williams, said it was sad for anyone to think of kidnapping a doctor, who saves lives.
Jonas-Williams said that the matter had already been scheduled to be taken on the floor of the Assembly, adding that the house would invite the state’s Permanent Secretary on Security to give detailed explanations on security issues in the state.
“We are with you. We will make sure that something is done urgently, because I see no reason why doctors who save lives should be targeted and kidnapped always,’’ he said.
Addressing the doctors at the governor’s office, Prof. Ivara Esu, the state’s deputy governor, said that the state government was concerned and worried about the security of residents in the state.
Esu, who appealed to the association to suspend their strike action in the interest of the public, gave assurance that efforts were on to rescue the doctors from captivity.
At some point early last year, the situation had been so bad that the then State Security Adviser, Jude Ngaji, suggested that security be provided for medical doctors in the state.
But Ayuk said such method was not viable. “We all know that it is not viable. We don’t only work in the hospitals. We are in the communities. We believe that if the entire community is secured, everyone will be secured,” he said.
Kidnapping in the past had been strange to Cross River State. However, today, it is a different story. Kidnapping for ransom appears to have gathered momentum and is now a big problem in the state.
Though there had always been pockets of these incidents here and there, it was Igbo businessmen that brought it to the fore with complaints that their members were being targeted. They had complained that many of their members had been abducted and huge sums collected for ransom. They had kept quiet initially because they feared for their safety or that of their loved ones abducted and wanted to ensure they were released safely.
Since then, the situation appears to have snowballed into a major problem in the state, especially the capital, Calabar. Many feel it is a terrible development, especially for a state whose mainstay is peace because of its tourism thrust, despite the industrialisation agenda of the present government. Many feel the present administration is not doing enough to tackle the problem.
It also appears the kidnappers do not seem to have any particular class of people they target. Since the issue was brought to light, various persons from journalists, pastors and businessmen to university lecturers, doctors, and even a state security adviser (SSA), Mr Ani Esin, many others have been kidnapped.
Although the attempt on the SSA earlier this year was foiled, the development showed the audacity of the kidnappers in the state.
Cross River State governor, Prof Ben Ayade, as well as the State Police Command, have always promised to work hard to ensure the state is protected against kidnappers. In fact the state had gone ahead to make a law for capital punishment against kidnappers.
However, residents are worried that despite the promises and legislation, more still needs to be done, as many now live in fear and the matter appears to be getting worse.
At the moment, patients in dire need of medical attention groan as the state awaits the safe and unconditional release of Dr Inyama. The doctors have resolved they would not go back to work until this is achieved.
However, Dr. Marcus has regained freedom.
Dr. Alfred Mboto, Permanent Secretary on Security, in the state, confirmed his release in a telephone interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Calabar. (The Nation/NAN)
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