Striking clinical officers to offer free medical assistance during protests

Clinical officers protest outside the Ministry of Health offices in Nairobi. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

As the country braces for nationwide protests against the controversial Finance Bill 2024, the organisers now have support from expected and unexpected quarters.

The latest to cross to their side are clinical officers who have been striking for 85 days now.

The medics are volunteering to treat both demonstrators and law enforcement officers caught in the crossfire in the demos that are slated to kick off on Tuesday.

The Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) has officially joined the effort, pledging to coordinate and provide emergency medical teams in every county and town affected by the demonstrations.

Speaking while announcing the union’s decision, KUCO chair Peterson Wachira did not hide his disappointment with the government.

“I think this is the regime that really has really shown incompetence in managing labour matters,” said Wachira.

"We realised that if we had competent medical staff on the ground, probably Rex Masai would not have lost his life," referring to a protester fatally shot by police earlier in the week,” he added.

"From that, as a union, we will coordinate and provide medical emergency teams. While we had already deployed personnel, we realised the numbers were insufficient. We will now enhance our efforts to ensure that in every county and town where these 'maandamano' are taking place, we will have medical teams ready to respond in real time,” the union Boss pledged.

The medical initiative comes against the backdrop of KUCO's ongoing strike, which began on April 1, 2024. The union cites the failure of the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the 47 Counties under the Council of Governors (COG) to honour court orders directing them to conclude Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations.

“On 9th of May, the court then gave further orders and we were given around 45 days so that we can sit with employers and we can enter into a return-to-work-agreement, simply a consent that outlines how the outstanding demands were going to be addressed,” Wachira said.

He further expressed the union’s frustrations with the government’s handling of the situation.

 “We must say that though we have been having several meetings, we have noted a lot of laxity and lack of goodwill from the side of the government and that is why for over one month we are yet to enter into a consent or a return to work agreement,” revealed Wachira

The union has also expressed concern over the government's handling of the health sector, pointing to a reduction in the health budget by sh11 billion in the current fiscal year.

“Initially there was a reduction of the health budget by shs11 billion. Now we have seen further proposals to reduce it by shs3.7billion and that is the money meant for the interns which will be taking it to around now shs15 billion,” said the union’s chairperson.  

This cut stands in stark contrast to the current administration's campaign promises to improve health services by transitioning from universal health coverage to Universal Health Care.

"Our expectation and that of Kenyans was to see a corresponding commitment in the budgetary allocation," KUCO said speaking in Nairobi.

"This commitment could only be seen through progressive increase in the budget to health. Our expectations and that of Kenyans remains just mere dreams and promises."

The union has further criticised the government for allowing the strike to continue for such an extended period without addressing their needs.

“The current regime does not value health care and there is no better evidence than the fact that they have allowed this strike to continue for this prolonged period even with the suffering of Kenyans and also fits to the greater scheme of trying to ensure that we kill the public health system to ensure that the private health sector benefits,” said Wachira.  

Despite the pitfalls, KUCO members have agreed to put aside their grouse with the government and join the Gen Z protesters in pushing for the dropping of the Finance Bill 2024, which has vexed the Kenyan public.

"Our sole purpose is to alleviate suffering and prevent loss of life," Wachira said, urging both demonstrators and police to respect and cooperate with the medical teams on the ground.

KUCO has called on both the government and protesters to prioritise dialogue and peaceful resolution of the issues at hand. The union emphasised the importance of respecting the constitutional right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully, while also condemning the use of excessive force by law enforcement.

As the debate over the Finance Bill continues, the volunteer medical teams show no signs of slowing down. In a significant development, almost 3,000 medical interns are said to have come forward to assist during the protest.