Students caught in the middle as professors battle for Sh9b hospital

The main entrance to Kenyatta University on Wednesday, July, 13, 2022. [Samson Wire, Standard]

When two professors separated by a stone fence differ, the consequences can be devastating.

A fight between the head of Kenyatta University and his former boss chairing the board of the Kenya University Teaching Referral and Research Hospital is jeopardising the fate of about 2,000 students pursuing medicine courses.

The university is demanding that its students be allowed to study at the hospital. Ultimately, the university Vice Chancellor Paul Wainaina wants to run the Sh9 billion facility situated on 70-acre land.

His former boss, Prof Olive Mugenda, oversaw its construction.

Currently, students pursuing medicine courses at the university have to be bussed to the Kiambu Level Six Hospital, about 20 kilometres away, for research and training.

Ironically, when the construction was completed in 2019 and declared a parastatal vial Legal Notice No 4 of 2019, one of its core mandates was to provide facilities for medical education for the Kenyatta University.

At the time the idea of was conceptualised in 1990s, it was supposed to be a university hospital to support medical-related programmes, says Prof Wainaina.

“Consequently, the university started offering medical programmes in 2004 while engaging independent public health institutions, as it conceptualised the establishment of the University Hospital.”

According to the university, the hospital was developed through a Sh9 billion loan granted in 2012 by Exim Bank of China and guaranteed by the government with an agreement between the State and KU taking over of the loan and hospital ownership after construction.

Since the loan did not include operationalisation and recruitment of staff, the university had to seek, through the government, a further Sh656 million for the purchase of specialised medical equipment for training and recruitment of staff.

However, before the money was released to the Ministry of Education, the government released Executive Order No 4 of 2019  dated January 25, 2019 which converted the hospital into a parastatal.

The gazettement, Prof Wainiana says, occurred a day before the university council met President Uhuru Kenyatta. “We were ready to meet the President but when the gazette notice came out, we were told to see the Chief of Staff, Joseph Kinyua,” he says.

However, when the VC, the chancellor, Benson Wairegi, and the council chairman, Migot Adhola, went to the State House, they could not meet Kinyua as he was away.

“A few days later we got a letter from Kinyua instructing us to hand over all the documents about the hospital,” says Prof Wainaina.

The latter dated May 21, 2019, was addressed to the hospital board chairperson Mugenda and copied to the VC and the project manager of China Jianxi International Economic and Technical Co-operation, Hou Cheng Wei.

Prof Wainiana was asked to hand over documents relating to the hospital and was summoned to the Jogoo House on a Sunday by the then Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha and later got a dressing down on the telephone from President Kenyatta for holding back some documents.

By that time, the Legal Notice No 39 of 2021 that amended Legal Notice No 4 of 2019 had removed the Vice Chancellor, the University Council representative, and the Director General MoH from the hospital board.

Some of the training facilities, the VC says, have been converted to other uses and some laboratories turned into a funeral home. The doctors’ plaza, according to Prof Wainaina, has been transformed into the administration block. Another wing meant for training students has been leased to the World Health Organisation.

But yesterday, Prof Mugenda dismissed the claims of locking out KU medical students, saying they were free to use it to train.

She also denied repurposing some of the training facilities. “This is a government hospital. When it was being constructed I signed the contract and it was constructed through a government to government loan. We are other institutions and what is expected of KU is to invite the medical board for inspection so that they can get approval to use it. As far as I know, they have not applied but once they do this we are ready to accommodate them,” she said.

The board chairperson noted that at the time she left the university, it had a medical school, contradicting claims that it has been relying on offices and laboratories scattered all over the institution to train medical students.

The institution, Prof Mugenda says, was already offering training to wide range of students including those undertaking masters programme.

Dean of School of Health Sciences, Dr Okello Agina, says the students inability to use the hospital may hamper studies. “We were given a temporary licence to start a medical school because we convinced the regulators we were building a medical school when the East Africa Medical Board came for inspection,” he said.