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Stretched and Stressed by Outbreak, African Doctors Push Back

Physicians are striking and demanding more protection as the virus spreads.

The intensive care unit at a military hospital in Monrovia, Liberia.

The intensive care unit at a military hospital in Monrovia, Liberia.

Photographer: Zoom Dosso/AFP

For as long as she can remember, Bilqis Muhammad wanted to be a doctor. At age 34, she works in the emergency room of a hospital in Zaria, a city of 400,000 in the grasslands of northern Nigeria. Though she frequently has to put in overtime to make up for staff shortages, in seven years on the job she’s always showed up for work, no matter how tired or frustrated she was. The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed that.

On June 15, Muhammad joined thousands of Nigerian physicians in a strike to highlight the dangerous conditions they face in the outbreak, which has infected more than 250 doctors in Nigeria and killed at least 12. The union says staff lack sufficient protective equipment, haven’t received promised overtime bonuses, and have been shaken down by police while commuting during the lockdown. “We’re putting in our best in the Covid response,” says Muhammad, a union leader in Zaria. “And the government isn’t ready to give us adequate protection.”