The Nigerian working group of a campaign led by the Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) is collaborating on a regional campaign demanding more investment by governments in the health of their citizens. OTUWA represents trade union national centers in the 15 West African countries comprising the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Addressing journalists at a public event in Abuja, Nigeria working group coordinator Dr. Ayegba Ojonugwa, last month warned that governments must increase health workers’ wages and improve their working conditions—including safety—to staunch the outflux of health workers from the beleaguered sector.
“We are here today to further advocate that healthcare is a human right,” said Ojonugwa, who noted that West Africa’s governments are not implementing the 15 percent minimum annual budgetary health allocation to which African heads of state agreed in the landmark 2001 Abuja Declaration. Currently, no country in the region achieves this percentage and Nigeria’s healthcare indicators are some of the worst in Africa—in part because medical professionals are in such short supply there.
In Nigeria, OTUWA’s “Healthcare Is a Human Right” campaign—launched in Abuja in March 2021—is supported by the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) and labor federations Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC).
In the region, the campaign is supported by OTUWA’s affiliates together with many of their health sector unions. A 2020 survey of 700 health workers living in Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo provides a window into the region’s health-sector shortcomings and presents a raft of recommendations for ensuring the protection of health worker rights and effective, accessible healthcare for all.
In Nigeria, through a coordinated campaign by the Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA), West African Informal Sector Workers Network Working Group, Federation of Informal Workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON), Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), unions are demanding increased government investment in healthcare for informal-sector workers and their families—including the provision of adequate hospitals and clinics in marginalized communities.
“Healthcare is a human right!” said FIWON General Secretary Gbenga Komolafe at a press conference in Abuja this month, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed Nigeria’s inadequate healthcare system, especially in the informal sector. “We will use all available legitimate means to push this campaign. We will do rallies and protest on the street.”
NLC and TUC representatives at the conference also lent their organization’s support to the campaign.
Although the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recommends that member states allocate 15 percent of their budget to healthcare, Nigeria budgets only 4 to 6 percent—among the lowest in Africa, said Komolafe.
“We now have a responsibility to … call on government to put more funding into social protection, especially healthcare,” said Odah.
OTUWA’s “Healthcare Is a Human Right” campaign, launched in Abuja in March last year, unites OTUWA affiliates in a fight for equal and fair health care access for all who live within the ECOWAS region.
2 billion informal-sector workers comprising 61 percent of the world’s workforce are not covered or are insufficiently covered by laws or working arrangements guaranteed to formal workers. Although informal-economy workers create more than one-third of the world’s gross national product, they have little power to advocate for social security benefits like healthcare, living wages and safe and secure work. By joining in unions or other worker associations, workers in the informal economy can gain the collective power they need to make change, according to an International Labor Organization (ILO) study.
A new survey of 700 health workers in six West African countries—Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo—provides a window into health-sector shortcomings that are compounding the region’s ability to respond effectively to the COVID-19 crisis. The survey, conducted by the Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) together with national trade union centers and healthcare unions, was released last week together with a raft of union recommendations for ensuring the protection of health worker rights and effective, accessible healthcare for all.
“The results of OTUWA’s health care worker survey are very important for the decision-makers in this region, especially in the midst of a pandemic,” said OTUWA President and National Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Senegal (UNSAS) General Secretary Mademba Sock.
The survey found that most health workers are being subjected to increased workload without additional compensation and feel unsafe at work due to shortages of personal protective equipment and inadequate access to COVID-19 tests. Respondents indicated insufficient health facilities, shortage of medical personnel and unaffordable medical care as their most pressing issues.
OTUWA, which represents trade union national centers in the 15 West African countries comprising the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), will promote the survey’s findings and policy recommendations within regional organizations such as ECOWAS and the West African Health Organization (WAHO). OTUWA will also support affiliates as they engage their own governments on issues that negatively affect healthcare workers and prevent universal access to good health care.
“The survey findings underscore the fact that workers and unions must be involved in all discussions and decisions about health care systems in our region, so they properly serve everyone’s needs,” said OTUWA Secretary General John Odah, who is urging governments in the region to prioritize and increase budgetary spending on health facilities and supplies.
The survey report was released during an OTUWA-led virtual presentation on October 8, during which Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)-Africa general secretary, and David Dorkenoo, International Labor Organization (ILO) Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV) specialist for Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, underlined the survey’s importance for policymakers. Other participating organizations in the event included the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU); Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal national union centers; and several healthcare unions.
“We are brothers and sisters across these countries, and we have learned a lot from the pandemic,” said West Africa Health Sector Unions’ Network (WAHSUN) Chair Perpetual Ofori-Ampofo, during the event.
At Ofori-Ampofo’s suggestion, event participants agreed that union representatives discussing healthcare issues with their governments should emphasize the urgency of ratifying International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 190. C190 is the world’s first treaty requiring governments to address gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work, which Ofori-Ampofo said is commonly reported by health workers in the region.
The survey is an activity of OTUWA’s new “Healthcare Is a Human Right” campaign. Launched in Abuja in March, the campaign unites OTUWA affiliates in a fight for equal and fair healthcare access for all who live within the ECOWAS region.
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