Four months after, deceased frontline health workers’ families yet to receive compensation

… NMA, NARD, lawmaker react

Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis

Stakeholders and top officials in the health sector have decried the prolonged delay in payment of compensations to families of healthcare givers who died while working at COVID-19 isolation centres.

Government had promised to compensate relatives of healthcare workers who died at the frontline four months ago.

In July 2020, PUNCH HealthWise reported that the Chairman, House Committee on Health Services, Tanko Sununu, said the National Assembly had set up a committee to work out a plan to compensate families of frontline health workers who died in the course of attending to COVID-19 patients.

Sununu made the statement during a solidarity visit to the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria in Abuja then.

He had said, “The decision of the House of Representatives, under the leadership of Femi Gbajabiamila, was taken in the best interest of the country;” adding that it was also done to reassure stakeholders in the health sector that their contributions were appreciated.

Four months after the announcement, however, none of the deceased health workers’ families has received the compensation promised.

According to the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Phillips Ekpe, none of the families compiled on the list has been paid so far.

“As medical bodies, both the NMA and NARD championed the process. We have played our part.

“However it must be noted that it is the individual teaching hospital, not NMA, that compiled those names,” he said.

He said the list was submitted to the Ministry of Health which, in turn, forwarded it to the head of service.

The consultant gynaecologist said he believed that the House of Representatives would have taken it from the point of ministry and work out the compensation scheme as proposed.

He also expressed concerns that while the families were growing weary, the compensation plan has been neglected for over four months.

“But they [families] cannot complain to NMA officially because it is not the authorised quarter to register such complaints.

“We are not their employers. Remember that COVID-19 is still very much around and health workers are still at the frontline. But the government has just been paying only three months and not pay again. This is what we pass through every time.

“We agreed that if government cannot pay for COVID-19, let them deal with hazard allowance across board for everybody. But up till now, nobody has said anything.

“I am sure when the issue pops again, some people will start saying doctors always like to go on strike. Unfortunately, we don’t know what the Federal Government policy is,” he stated.

In the same vein, immediate past first vice president of National Association of Resident Doctors, Dr. Julien Ojebo, told our correspondent that they had been reassured that the compensation scheme was still in progress.

“The FG told us that they had done their part after hearing from the head of service and sent it back to the ministry of health to liaise with individual hospitals where claims had been made.

“The association is still following up on it,” he said.

When called on phone for an update, Chairman, House Committee on Health Services, Tanko Sununu, said the public hearing on the compensation of health workers was postponed repeatedly for a number of reasons.

“It is true that we agreed on having a public hearing on the number of health workers that died, how many of their families were compensated and why others were not.

“We also want to find out how the money released for such purpose by the Federal Government was utilised.

“My committee was saddled with the responsibility. Unfortunately, COVID-19 did not allow the hearing to hold. We had to postpone the sittings on three to four occasions.

“Not just COVID-19 lockdown, #ENDSARS and other issues also affected the public hearing on the matter. We couldn’t do much because of these setbacks.

“Secondly, when we eventually reconvened, the issue of 2021 budget came up. That made us to virtually suspend everything. That’s where we are now,” he said.

When asked if the public hearing could still hold before the year runs out, the lawmaker noted that the 2021 budget had become priority over the public hearing.

“I really don’t know. Even if we resume now, we must finish (reviewing) the budget. Once we resume, to hold a public hearing is not an issue. But now that plenary has been suspended, we are all working on the budget,” he said.

He said officials of the NMA had also been following up the case at the National Assembly.

“The NMA has been coming, too. I have seen them at the National Assembly almost three times with their list and claims,” he added.

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