The growing spread of the Ebola virus in Nigeria remains serious enough to keep the nation in an official state of emergency, with thousands concerned that the virus will spread like it has in other West African nations. In what many are calling a massive failure of optics, however, the Nigerian government has chosen to fire up to 16,000 doctors due to an unrelated medical employee strike.
In a memorandum to the Nigerian Health Ministry, the Permanent Secretary for Federal Ministry of Health L.N. Awute announced that Nigeria would suspend its medical residency program and terminate the jobs of the resident doctors. The order, which cites President Goodluck Jonathan as its unilateral source, also “asked the management of all public hospitals to take necessary measures to restore full medical services in the hospitals, even without the resident doctors.”
The termination follows a month of strikes by doctors of the Nigerian Medical Association, who began striking on July 1st, demanding better wages and hours. The number of doctors affected by President Jonathan’s directive, Sky News reports, is about 16,000.
The Premium Times followed up the news with a response from the Nigerian government, which is currently facing significant outrage from citizens frightened of the potential of an Ebola epidemic striking a country that just lost thousands of its doctors. In a statement, the Ministry of Health noted, “For the whole of July 2014, these doctors did not work, yet government, owing to the emergency situation in our country, paid them the July salaries with allowances such as call duty allowance, teaching allowance, hazard allowance, etc., believing that this magnanimity of government would appeal to reason for NMA to call off the strike.”
The emphasis on the doctors not working appears to be in direct reaction to the criticism from those concerned about Ebola: these doctors are not being taken away from the front lines against the virus because they have not been working since before the virus entered Nigeria through Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American official who died in Lagos, Nigeria, shortly after landing from Liberia.
Nigeria currently has eleven confirmed cases of Ebola, mostly medical workers who interacted with Sawyer. The presence of Ebola in Lagos, a city of 21 million people, has caused significant alarm among those who fear an outbreak in an urban area. While Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, has seen a high number of cases, it is the exception, with most Ebola-stricken communities in rural areas of Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Al Jazeera notes that, in addition to the Nigerian Medical Association calling for an immediate reversal of Jonathan’s proposal, individual Nigerians are lashing out on social media, calling the move “death sentences in disguise,” with some even indicting the doctors for choosing to strike amid a crisis.