Kidnapping of Nigerian Doctors is a Public Health Crisis, says ANPA Members

Nigerian doctors in the US are taking President Goodluck Jonathan to task for being slow to tackle the booming kidnapping industry in the South East part of the country. ANPA members are also expressing solidarity with their colleagues at home who have become the target of the out-of-control kidnapping racket. According to Nigerian Medical association (NMA), more than 20 doctors have been kidnapped in Abia State alone in the past one year. Nigeria Health Watch, a blog that focuses on health care in Nigeria, has rounded up several recent cases in which doctors were the victims.

The kidnappers, increasingly emboldened by a seemingly incompetent and flat-footed police, routinely terrorize citizens and have paralyzed economic activities in the once bustling Abia and neighboring states. Perhaps, the most brazen incident occurred last week when gunmen murdered Dr. Stanley Uche, a gynecologist and proprietor of Victory Christian Hospital, Aba, even after allegedly collecting N30 million ransom from the wife. Just a year ago, the then President of the NMA, Dr. Prosper Igboeli and his wife, narrowly escaped the onslaught of a gang of kidnappers who attacked his hospital, also in Abia State.

Besieged by the spate of kidnappings and the general insecurity of life, doctors have embarked on limited strikes, protest marches, and public appeals to the government. After Dr. Uche’s murder, many public and private hospitals in Abia State were shut down for several days and some doctors have begun to flee the state. ANPA member, Dr. Obi Emerole is troubled by this development, stating that “violent crime has become the number one public health issue in the country especially in the eastern states”. Dr. Emerole, who is a cardiologist, worries that the siege on doctors will only exacerbate the already severe shortage of doctors and demoralize the few who risk their lives in the service of their patients. The ultimate victims, Dr. Emerole fears, will be the masses of Nigerian citizens for whom the already poor health conditions will worsen as more hospitals close and doctors flee to safer parts of the country or migrate abroad.

We spoke to many ANPA members who expressed sadness and outright indignation at the ineptitude of the security forces and the apparent indifference of government to citizens who
are being terrorized by the hoodlums on a daily basis. A large-scale effort is underway within ANPA to mobilize members for concerted pressure on the Federal Government, to take immediate action to address the problem. According to Dr. Olusegun Salako, a past President of ANPA, “to remain silent is…being complicit with evil”. Dr. Salako, an obstetrician and gynecologist, has canvased support for a joint representation to President Jonathan by ANPA and other Diaspora groups including the Medical Association of Nigerians across Great Britain (MANSAG). Pharmaceutical scientist, Dr. Echeazu Ogu believes that the primary responsibility stops with the President. Dr. Ogu, also an ANPA member, noted that “the Health Minister by himself is powerless to affect the situation”. He pointed out that even the state governors are powerless because the police commissioners do not report to them. Clearly, Dr. Ogu said, “police and security issues are Federal Government responsibilities”.

ANPA President, Dr. Fiemu Nwariaku and his MANSAG counterpart Dr. Dilly Anumba have recently summoned emergency meetings of their organizations’ leadership to address the matter. Dr. Nwariaku said that ANPA’s vision of a “healthier Nigeria in a healthier world” cannot be achieved under the present atmosphere of insecurity that “significantly impairs the ability of health professionals from within and outside the country to fulfill their duty of providing Nigerian citizens, access to health care in their own country”. ANPA, and other Diaspora medical groups, he said, wanted to send a strong message of solidarity and
encouragement to their colleagues at home. “Nigerian doctors are courageous patriots working to save lives under impossible conditions. The least they ask from the government is basic safety”, Dr. Nwariaku added.

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