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Nigerian Doctors Commence 'Indefinite Strike' for Better Conditions

A state ambulance leaves the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, following the suspension of strike by doctors in Lagos, May 21, 2020.

ABUJA— Resident doctors in Nigerian public hospitals on Wednesday embarked on their second strike this year to protest salaries in arrears and to demand improved pay and working conditions.

The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors declared the “total and indefinite strike ... having considered all the numerous ultimatums, appeals and engagements with the government,” Dr. Innocent Orji, the group's president, said in a statement issued after their meeting on Tuesday night.

The resident doctors' president said their salaries had not increased since negotiations in 2009. With recent surging inflation and the end of gas subsidies, the value of the local currency against the U.S. dollar has fallen by 480% since then.

This comes as the public health sector in Africa's most populous country is suffering a serious brain drain as an average of 200 resident doctors have relocated abroad every month over the last two years, seeking better pay, Orji told The Associated Press.

Their positions are left vacant, further worsening the relatively affordable healthcare services in the country's public hospitals.

“We are having a massive brain drain in the health sector. It has gotten to the extent of doctors dying and breaking down … it has never been this bad,” Orji said.

Strikes by doctors in Nigeria are common and the latest could shut down some healthcare services in critical wards where they work as graduate trainees across public hospitals in Africa's most populous country. The doctors are medical school graduates who provide urgent and critical care across under-staffed public hospitals.

"We cannot do without resident doctors (and) what they are asking in order to be able to provide the services that people require in Nigeria is not much (but) the federal and state governments do not prioritize healthcare,” said Ifeanyi Nsofor, of the U.S.-based Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity, who has conducted extensive research on healthcare delivery in Nigeria.

The United Kingdom is the preferred choice destination for many Nigerian doctors moving abroad, the local doctors’ association said. In the year leading to September 2022, Nigerian nationals were the second-largest category to receive the U.K. “Skilled Worker - Health and Care” visa, accounting for 8,520, or 14% of the total, government statistics show.

At the Federal Medical Center in Nigeria's Abia state, Dr. Chigozie Ozurumba said doctors can only hope that things get better for them with the strike as the last option.

“The Nigerian doctor is an unhappy doctor,” said Ozurumba. "It is an existential threat.”