By Camillus Eboh
ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian resident doctors began their second strike of the year over pay and working conditions amid the spread of the new coronavirus, the doctors' union told Reuters on Tuesday.
The strike began on Monday, and includes 16,000 resident doctors out of a total of 42,000 doctors in the country, Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, President of the National Association of Resident Doctors, told Reuters.
"It is an indefinite strike until issues are resolved," he said. "All resident doctors at the COVID-19 centres have joined the strike."
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, has a total of 55,160 confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,061 deaths.
Resident doctors are medical school graduates training as specialists. They are pivotal to frontline healthcare in Nigeria as they dominate the emergency wards in its hospitals.
The group last went on strike in June, demanding better benefits and more protective equipment for battling the coronavirus. They are still demanding, among other things, life insurance and hazard allowance.
In a statement, Minister of Labour Chris Ngige called on the doctors to suspend the strike.
"All parties are enjoined not to employ arm-twisting methods to intimidate or foist a state of helplessness on the other party," he said.
The statement said the government had spent 20 billion naira ($52.56 million) on hazard allowances for healthcare workers in April, May and June, and had met the bulk of the doctors' demands. Sokomba said the union planned to meet Ngige on Wednesday and hoped they could resolve issues and call off the strike.
($1 = 380.5000 naira)
(Reporting By Camillus Eboh; Writing by Libby George; Editing by Peter Graff)