Patients hit, hospitals shut as staff press on with strike in Taita Taveta

Striking health workers demonstrate in Voi town. [Renson Mnyamwezi, Standard]
Sixty-seven public health facilities in Taita Taveta county remained shut yesterday for a second week running as workers pressed on with their strike over withheld statutory deductions.

Health workers and support staff said they would only resume duty after their statutory deductions for the four months to September are remitted.

Meanwhile, patients continued to suffer, with some cases of deaths reported in public hospitals due to the strike.

Jane Mbithi, 55, died last week as her family sourced for funds to take her to Machakos Level Five Hospital for specialised treatment to save her life.

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No money

Jackson Mbithi said his mother was hurriedly discharged from Taveta Sub-County Hospital when the strike started a fortnight ago.

“We did not have money to take her to a private hospital so we decided to take her back home as we made efforts to solicit for funds from well-wishers to take her to Machakos for specialised treatment. Unfortunately, my mother died at her Bura Ndogo village home on the outskirts of Taveta border town a day later,” he said yesterday.

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Mbithi’s family is not the only one that has suffered as a result of the strike.

Simba Lom, 45, died as his family rushed him to Faraji Hospital, Himo in Tanzania, for medical care after they were turned away at Taveta Sub-County Hospital.

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Chamaembe Simba said his father was suffering from chest pains and pneumonia.

These two cases just serve to show the heavy toll the strike has had on the region.

Scores of poor patients discharged from public hospitals continue to die at home for lack of medical care.

Frank Mmare, the chairperson of the County Assembly’s health committee, claimed 16 patients discharged from hospitals have so far died. He warned that more deaths could happen if a lasting solution to the strike is not found.

Public hospitals, which have always been a hive of activity, are now deserted.

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The county has one referral hospital, four sub-county hospitals, 19 health centres and 43 dispensaries.

The county administration has been on the spot over its failure to remit statutory deductions, such as NHIF, NSSF and insurance premiums, with workers calling on the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to investigate the matter.

“There is nothing going on in our hospitals now. It is very painful and the Government needs to look for a lasting solution to end the suffering of patients,” said Voi County Referral Hospital Medical Superintendent Jeremiah Shem.

Finance department

Health Executive Daniel Makoko said the problem lies with the finance department.

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“It is not the health workers alone who are complaining over statutory deductions. I am also facing a similar problem,” said the CEC.

He disclosed a meeting would be held today to try and find out a lasting solution to the problem.

Two meetings convened earlier to reach a settlement on the ongoing health workers' strike hit a deadlock last week.

This was after the Executive and officials of the health workers union clashed over statutory deductions.

The union officials revealed that the stormy meetings ended in disarray, without any tangible solution to end the strike.

The union officials took the Executive to task to explain why it had not been remitting statutory deductions.

Last week, the workers staged a demonstration in Voi town where they blocked the busy Nairobi-Mombasa highway.

They demanded to know why the county administration had been taking statutory deductions from their salaries but failed to remit them.

The union officials were led by Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union Coast branch official Richard Wangai and the Kenya National Union of Nurses branch secretary Richard Nyambu.

Mr Nyambu said the executive is yet to remit more than Sh26 million to Afya Sacco, which had affected the disbursement of loans to members.

He revealed that the dues are for the months of June, July and August, this year.

The union official further noted that the county administration is yet to implement the comprehensive insurance cover for all health workers despite having a committee in place for five months now.

“Perennial staff shortages, irrational employment, drugs/non-pharmaceutical shortages and poor working conditions are some of the major challenges facing health facilities. And despite several engagements with the relevant county government offices, the issues have remained unresolved,” said Nyambu.

“We presented evidence from the Sacco to the Executive. We will only return to work if the county administration pays August salaries and statutory deductions to the Sacco, NHIF and NSSF.”

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Taita Taveta countyMedics strikePublic hospitalsVoi town