The Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) has called on governments at all levels to end medical tourism by improving funding to the health sector.
Mr Ayuba Wabba, NLC President, said this on Thursday in Abuja at a ceremony to mark the 2020 Global Day of Action on Care.
This year’s ceremony has the theme: “Invest in Care Now!’’
Wabba said that the COVID-19 pandemic had exposed the neglect of the healthcare industry in the country.
Wabba, who is also the President of International Trade Union Confederation(ITUC), said that the theme was apt as it highlights the urgent need for massive investment in the healthcare sector.
According to him, COVID-19 has fully exposed several countries, including Nigeria, as not having invested enough in health care institutions, putting everyone, both rich and poor, at high risks.
”The theme: ‘Invest in Care Now!’ is to drum up demands for heavy investments in the care sector by our government and big businesses, if we must keep a healthy society and productive human resource base.
“Apart from the open fact that our health care sector has been neglected for too long, health care workers have been subjected to unfair treatment for too long.
“Essential workers, as they are often called at crisis times, do not have the necessary personal protective equipment to work with, especially before the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Government waited for the pandemic before it woke up to the reality of the decadence in our health care sector.
“Even now, enough has not been done to properly equip the sector and properly kit health workers across the country,” he regretted.
He opined that with the massive resources at government’s disposal, Nigeria could afford to build and effectively equip some of the best hospitals in the world, with global best practices and personnel.
He, however, noted that successive governments had failed to treat healthcare as a top priority beyond mere policy statements.
“We believe that now is the time for our government at all levels to demonstrate keen attention to the health sector.
“The current pandemic has shown how important healthcare is to all sectors and citizens of any country.
“Owing to COVID-19 pandemic, our economy has suffered huge losses both in human and capital investment.
“No country will grow with such avoidable losses.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the risks health care workers face daily in the course of their duties as they do not have adequate and appropriate safety gears, access to their own health care, decent pay commensurate with the work they do.
“Healthcare workers also need standard day care centres to keep their children when schools are not open and, or infants that are not of school age, to enable them concentrate on their work.
“It is also important that they are granted paid medical leave that include their immediate families.
“This will also help to curb the spread of airborne diseases they are exposed to at their workplaces,” he added.
The NLC president called for full membership of trade unions by all health workers, including those in private facilities, to give them the coverage to demand for their rights and enable unions monitor safety standards at the care centres.
He added that the measure would form part of the campaign in support of health care workers in both public and private sectors.
Wabba added that the campaigns would be carried out in collaboration with affiliates in the health sector and also in partnership with willing associations or organisations among civil society organisations.
“I also call on the Federal Government to pay the two months salaries owed health workers arising from an industrial dispute in 2018.
“The recent seven days warning strike by the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) to resolve the outstanding issues is yet to receive the attention of government and a social dialogue meeting on this matter is yet to be convened.
“We also demand a quick conclusion on negotiations on salary adjustment for JOHESU members in line with alternative dispute resolution processes of National Industrial Court of Nigeria, which all parties involved in the negotiation are subjected to.
“We also call for an end to all forms of medical tourism, especially by our elected and appointed public officials.
“We reiterate our position that government must be ready to invest heavily in the health sector as no country survives without effective health care,” he said.