IMSUTH And Its Unending Crises

Imo State University Teaching Hospital

For members of staff and students of the Imo State University Teaching Hospital, Orlu, everything seem awry. To them, life was not what they thought it should be. They are being owed arrears of salaries, which has necessitated a strike action; while medical students’ hope of graduating at the appropriate time appears dashed.

As a kid, Macdonald Eke, the president, the Imo State University Medical Students’ Association, Umunna, Orlu, had told his mother that he would be a medical doctor. So, when he secured admission to study medicine at the Imo State University (IMSU), he was glad that, at last, his dream to become a medical doctor will come true. So, Eke hoped to spend six years in the medical college as the prescribed duration for medicine in the university.

However, Eke’s fate seems to be hanging in the balance as he has spent 10 years pursuing a course, which ordinarily could have lasted six years in the medical college.

Some of the students like Eke, who spoke to The Nation in confidence for fear of being intimidated, revealed that some of them have already spent more than 10 years than the prescribed duration for their respective courses despite paying school fees.

Investigation revealed that Imo State University Teaching Hospital (IMSUTH), has been having varying and periodic problems, arising from frequent strike action, poor funding, inadequate medical equipment, inadequate members of staff, loss of accreditation and lots more.

The sordid plight of the students again, took the front burner within the past weeks, when resident doctors embarked on strike to press home their demands.

Dr. Bright Chukwunta, the Chairman, Association of Resident Doctors, IMSUTH, explained that the strike was a continuation of an earlier one they suspended after reaching an agreement with Governor Emeka Ihedioha shortly after he was sworn in.

Chukwunta said doctors’ demands include payment of full subvention and provision of necessary equipment in the hospital and repair of access roads leading to the hospital.

“We had a gentleman agreement with the state governor seven days after he assumed office when he promised to restore our subvention to 100 per cent and pay arrears of salaries owed us, and fix access roads to the hospital.”

But after more than five months, Chukwunta said the agreement has not been implemented. “It is almost five months down the line and nothing has been done in that regard. This is why on September 12; we recommenced a previously suspended strike on the grounds of breach of agreement on the part of government.”

Again, while grappling with the resident doctors’ demands, on October 17, health workers under the aegis of Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) commenced their own strike.

Speaking to The Nation, Chairman of JOHESU, Imo State chapter, Onyechere Darlington, confirmed that they were on strike in continuation of their earlier strike, which was suspended following the promise by Governor Ihedioha to look into their grievances.

Darlington revealed that the workers’ meeting last Thursday with the government officials broke down because their demands could not be met.

“Last Thursday, we had a discussion in the Ministry of Health with SSG, Commissioner for Health, Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Health and Special Adviser (SA) on Project Monitoring mandated by the governor to dialogue with us. It broke down because the government was still dragging its feet over our demands.

“They also did not care to dialogue with us within 21 days we issued an ultimatum. Out of the 21 days, that day (Thursday) was the first time they called us for discussion.

“They pleaded with me to shift the date of the strike that was supposed to commence that Thursday. I told them that inasmuch as I am the chairman, I don’t take unilateral decisions except the house mandates me. That time, the workers were disposed to go on strike and anything to the contrary will mean taking laws into my hands.

“They may not find it funny with me having suffered a lot of threats in the past because somebody is receiving 70 per cent of his salary; despite the situation in the country now. We have continued to talk about it.

“The other government left and we believe that government is a continuum. It is the Imo State government that owes us not Ihedioha or Okorocha,” he said.

Continuing, he said: “When the current administration assumed office; the workers heaved a sigh of relief because before Ihedioha took over the leadership of the state, we were on strike when the immediate past governor was paying us 70 per cent. So, we supported Ihedioha and he promised to restore our 100 per cent salary structure. We had to suspend the strike. After five months, nothing happened. The workers were alleging that I have been bought over.

“Before the commencement of the strike, the house gave me the mandate that their three months’ salary arrears must be paid. They were paying us 70 per cent of the net not 70 per cent of the gross. If they were paying us 70 per cent of the gross, perhaps, we would not have been where we are now.

“The other issue is access road even though the present government has come to flag off the road construction. But no work is going on there and then all the equipment in the hospital have all broken down. Most times, most of our patients are referred to other hospitals for dialysis and X-rays that were supposed to be conducted in the hospital. This does not give us the IGR we need to run the hospital.”

The deadlock has continued to have its toll on both the students and patients.

When The Nation visited the hospital, classes were empty, offices and gates were under lock and key. Some of the students were seen in groups discussing their plight.

Eke, who spoke to The Nation at the teaching hospital, Orlu, appealed to the state government to urgently resolve the matter before it gets out of hands.

“We are appealing to the state government to step into the matter. We are also urging the management and the resident doctors to shift ground and come to a common understanding for the sake of the patients, students and the credibility of the college,” he said.

He revealed that the college had suffered some setbacks on the issue of its accreditation, adding that the strike would compound the already horrible situation.

According to him, whenever there was a strike action, clinical posting suffers a setback in the school.

“Whenever there is a strike, we are limited; our training is incomplete and our clinical posting is truncated.

“Since the resident doctors embarked on the current strike, it has affected our clinical posting, most patients have died, many have been discharged.”

The students’ leader, who claimed that he is in his fifth year in the medical school, said he has spent 10 years running a course that was supposed to have been completed six, seven years ago.

Also, patients were seen leaving the hospital as no doctor was around to attend to them. Some of them interviewed said they were leaving for elsewhere to seek medical treatment.

A patient, who did not want her name mentioned, said some of them did not have a place to go for treatment.

“So, they are just there waiting for death to take them as there are no doctors to attend to them,” she said.

Reacting, the Chief Medical Director of the Teaching Hospital, Dr. Chukwuma Bonaventure Duru told The Nation that he has been able to reach the part of the agreement he had with the striking doctors.

Although he did not reveal the agreement reached with the striking doctors, he, however, said he had been supportive of the cause of the doctors.

“I am part of the doctors, they are my colleagues, but I am pleading with them to resume work as Governor Ihedioha has promised to meet their demands.

“We are continuing negotiations until we resolve the issue. It is better to resolve the problem through negotiation than through confrontation. I am not happy; the strike is negatively affecting the hospital. The senior doctors are overwhelmed, the condition of patients deplorable, the medical students are equally affected. For the sake of all these, I appeal to the resident doctors to call off the strike.

“The senior doctors are not part of the strike because they believe in negotiation. I plead with the young doctors to embrace negotiation.”

According to him, the last administration did not pay the salary; the current administration has agreed to pay. The governor is a man who stands by his words,” he said.

Also speaking, the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Vin Udokwu told The Nation that the government was finding ways to resolve the issue.

“I want to tell you that the issue has not been resolved, we are on the matter to find ways to resolve it amicably.”

Meanwhile, the plight of the doctors, students, workers, patients has continued unabated.