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Outrage over government’s move to invite Chinese doctors

By m Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Cornelius Essen (Abuja), Chukwuma Muanya, Wole Oyebade, Gloria Nwafor (Lagos) and AgosiTodo (Calabar)
06 April 2020   |   4:40 am
The move by the Federal Government to bring Chinese medical experts to help it check the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria has drawn the ire of local stakeholders. Health Minister Osagie Ehanire had announced last Friday

It’s an insult to local health workers’ sacrifice, says NMA, NARD
• Chinese, Turkish medical supplies to arrive in Nigeria

The move by the Federal Government to bring Chinese medical experts to help it check the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria has drawn the ire of local stakeholders. Health Minister Osagie Ehanire had announced last Friday that an “18-man team of Chinese medical experts including doctors, nurses and other medical advisers” would assist Nigeria in its fight against COVID-19.

The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), in a statement by its president, Dr. Francis AdedayoFaduyile, said the association received the report with great dismay and utter disappointment.

It described the plan as an embarrassment to members and other health workers fighting COVID-19 under deplorable conditions. This personnel should not have been subjected to the ignominy of not being carried along on such a decision, the NMA noted.

Doctors are profoundly dismayed to learn that the Federal Government is inviting the Chinese who from available accounts are not out of the woods themselves, said NMA.

It regretted that the government did not take into consideration the extant laws regulating the practice of medicine in Nigeria as enshrined in the Medical and Dental Council Act. It noted further that the Medical and Dental Council of Nigerian should have been consulted to grant approvals to foreigners to interact with Nigerian patients.

The association is aware of a large pool of general medical and specialist practitioners who are either unemployed or underemployed. These could be engaged instead of foreigners who pose a risk to national security and may not be conversant with culture, terrain and peculiar challenges, the NMA said.

It stressed that the invitation is ill-timed and of no overbearing significance, considering that whatever experiences the Chinese have could be shared by digital technology through conferencing.

The NMA hoped that the government would rescind the decision in the interest of the country, warning that it would hate to review its participation in the fight against COVID-19 if the government goes ahead.

The association nevertheless affirmed its commitment to the Nigerian people and the government, expressing support for the efforts of its frontline health workers in containing the pandemic.

Similarly, the chairman of the Federal Capital Territory chapter, Dr Phillips Ekpe, warned: “We need to be careful of the Chinese coming into the country at this time. They seem not to have a good name. We are not sure of the value they are going to add. Our case is not severe and Nigerian doctors are doing very well.

“We learnt that it wasn’t the Federal Government that invited them; they are accompanying some medical equipment being donated to Nigeria. So, they are even uninvited. They should offload and go. There are so many conspiracy theories around this COVID-19. We need to be very cautious. We have so many doctors out there who are not employed. Government should engage them.”

He urged the government to use the COVID-19 opportunity to upgrade the nation’s healthcare facilities and motivate health workers at the frontline by increasing their hazard allowance from the current N5,000 to N200,000.

Also, the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) said the country’s medical experts were already winning the battle against the pandemic and should, therefore, be encouraged and motivated, not distracted and demoralised.

A statement by NARD President Dr Sokomba Aliyu warned that Chinese scientists could not be trusted, given how unreliably and covertly they had allegedly managed information about the pandemic.

“Nigeria is too important in the African continent to act carelessly in the face of this emerging but potent threat to human existence. We need to holistically cross-examine the intent and purpose of the importation of the 18-man Chinese team.

“The association is puzzled that the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Health, would be contemplating such an adventure without first discussing it with key and relevant stakeholders like the Nigerian Medical Association; our parent body; and all her relevant affiliates that parade some of the world’s best hands in all fields of endeavor,” the statement said.

“Some countries went ahead to accelerate the graduation of their final year medical students. They did not turn to China. If the Federal Government had completely employed the available qualified doctors and other healthcare workers before turning to China for medical manpower, to fill any persisting gap, it would have to be less suspicious.”

The association wondered if the Chinese medical experts would accept N5,000 as monthly hazard allowance. “Why did the Federal Government not bring Chinese experts on the same conditions of service? The Federal Government needs to immediately review the hazard allowance and make it a percentage of the basic salary of all healthcare workers,” it said.

“The news making the rounds in some quarters, that the Chinese experts are coming to Nigeria to play only advisory roles and not to directly intervene in the day to day handling of Nigerian patients, does not appear believable because telemedicine should have been more cost-effective, faster and easier to harness than flying them into Nigeria and moving them from place to place at a huge cost to our national budget.”

Some medical professionals, however, differed. President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, said: “In principle, we should have no issue with anybody offering to help us. They are not our enemies. Most of the money the federal and state governments have borrowed is from the Export-Import Bank of China. They sent 2,000 ventilators to the United States, and the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, received them with gratitude.

“If China offered to send us help and we need help, we should take it. The only thing is that we should validate it. We can decide to accept their help only as advisory role. Whatever help they offer to bring, we should validate it, whether it is drugs, equipment and experts.

“The world is becoming a global village. The whole world is one. All these human squabbles should stop. All this hatred and wickedness must stop because it is what brought us to where we are now. We must accept love and friendliness, and that is what the Chinese are offering us.”

In the same vein, the national president of the Guild of Medical Directors, Prof. Femi Dokun-Babalola, said: “It is interesting that Chinese medical experts are coming to Nigeria. It is okay to listen to what they may have to say.No harm in that. But whatever is implemented as a result of their visit must be agreed to with our own local experts as being along the lines of sound epidemiological and public health practice.”

In other reactions, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) said the deployment of Chinese health personnel was not necessary since Nigerian doctors were on top of the challenge, following the testimonials of patients who have recovered.

“Truly, the Chinese authorities have done well by not recording more cases in their country. It is novel and also shows their pro-activeness and commitment to crises. That notwithstanding, we insist that we do not need them now; rather we shall continue to adhere to the precautions reeled out by the health professionals to make the job easy,” said a statement by TUC President Quadri Olaleye.

The national coordinator of civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko, said: “There is no justification for accepting the medical aid from China, giving that Nigerian doctors and nurses have performed exceptionally in Lagos, such that dozens of Nigerians that had originally tested positive for coronavirus improved dramatically and have been discharged and declared fit and healthy.”

He asked: “What magic will these Chinese doctors perform when they arrive, and why is it that the Federal Ministry of Health does not seem to be working in partnership with the Nigerian Medical Association?”

The Archbishop of the Anglican Communion, Calabar Diocese, TundeAdeleye, also has faulted the plan to bring in the Chinese medics.

Stressing that he was not speaking on behalf of the church, Adeleye described the current administration in Nigeria as “confused” and “surrounded with a lot of deceit”.

He said: “If I tell the Federal Government not to import Chinese doctors, they will still go ahead and do it. If possible, they can even import China to Nigeria. This government does not listen to anything.

“If you try to make findings, the person behind the proposed visit of the 18-man team of Chinese medical experts to the country may even have selfish reasons that will benefit him.”

Meanwhile, new medical supplies from China and Turkey are expected to arrive in Nigeria this week.
The Federal Government on Saturday night took delivery of the first batch of supplies from Istanbul, Turkey. The undisclosed stock was flown in by Air Peace’s Boeing 777 airplane with registration number 5N-BWI. The aircraft landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

“Air Peace will also deliver another supply for the Federal Government. It will leave for Beijing on Monday for 15 hours non-stop flight to China,” a source told The Guardian.

This came as the director-general of the National Biosafety Management Agency, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, said the Federal Government was drafting a national biosecurity policy.

In reference to COVID-19, Ebegba said: “When we have a national biosecurity strategy in place, we will be able to know which agency does what, and we would have a stand-by national agency to tackle such issues that may come up in the country.”