Kenya’s nation-wide doctor’s strike has officially entered its fourth week and continues to paralyze the country’s public healthcare system. Doctors are demanding a 300 percent pay increase from the Ministry of Health. According to local news reports, up to 40 people have died across Kenya as a result of the lack of doctors.
The thousands of patients who rely on public health facilities have been forced to seek treatment elsewhere. The situation got worse over the Christmas holidays as the number of Kenyans seeking medical attention increased. Regardless, the doctors have affirmed that they won’t go back to work until their grievances are addressed.
Denied public healthcare, Kenyans have been seeking treatment at the few private hospitals across the country. Due to the strike, most of these facilities have hiked up their charges to levels most Kenyans cannot afford.
On December 14, nurses in Kenya signed a deal with the Ministry of Health to end their strike which started at the same time as the doctors stoppage. Even though the nurses have helped to cushion the effects of the strike by treating minor cases, they have also been forced to turn away patients with complications they were not able to handle.
“The health of a Kenyan citizen is the backbone of our country Kenya,” said Robert Juma, a resident of Nairobi. “The government should work to ensure doctors are back doing their jobs so that the common Kenyan citizen can get access to vital health services.”
No salaries for December
County governments have said that the doctors participating in the strike will not receive their December salaries. There have been attempts at negotiations between the government and the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union (KMPDU) but no agreement has been reached to date.
The Kenyan government is reportedly planning to hire foreign doctors from Cuba and India to replace the striking doctors.
Kenya is looking to hire foreign doctors to fill the gaps left by the striking doctors
Dr Elizabeth Ogaja from the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital thinks that the only solution would be for the government to give doctors the pay hike they are demanding.
“Even if the strike wasn’t there, we would still need to advertise for a lot more doctors than we have at the moment,” she said. “We need to sit down and dialogue, we cannot go on parallel tracks.”
The doctors who have downed their tools are calling for the 300 percent pay hike that was promised under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) reached in 2013 between the health professionals and the Kenyan government but never implemented.
County governments in Kenya were angry with the CBA at the time as they are the ones paying the salaries of most public doctors. Counties have already advertised for over 400 positions to replace the striking doctors.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke about the strike at a public event in early December but has been largely silent on the issue ever since. At the time he urged doctors and nurses to return to work and to continue with the negotiations.
“To our civil servants and especially the striking doctors and nurses, nobody has refused to talk with you,” he said.
Pregnant and in pain, 34-year-old Rosemary Achieng is among those who was turned away from a public hospital due to complications with her pregnancy. She was forced to deliver outside the hospital with the help of a security guard.
“They told me that there were no doctors at the hospital and I was directed to visit another hospital but I was in great pain,” said Achieng. “While I was leaving the security guard told me to be calm and it was right at the gate that I delivered my baby.”
Timothy Otsyula, the security guard, said that he saw someone who was in dire need of help and didn’t think twice about helping.
“I saw the woman and she was in pain,” he said. “I felt great pain too especially because my wife is also pregnant. I wondered what we would do if her time to give birth comes.”