By James Ratemo and Allan Kisia
Every year hundreds of Kenyan nurses go abroad in search of greener pastures.
But, as they have found out, the pastures are not greener after all – their search for better life still remains elusive.
In February and April, 59 Kenyan nurses were dispatched to Lesotho for employment. They were all smiles at the ‘golden’ opportunity.
But barely a year later, the nurses cannot wait to return home for what they term a raw deal.
Nurses after attending a court session following a past industrial dispute. Poor pay and working conditions has led to mass exodus of nurses for opportunities abroad. [PHOTOS: ISAAC WALE/FILE/STANDARD]
"We were promised better salaries, but that is now a pipe dream…we receive peanuts, which cannot sustain us in this foreign country," a Kenyan nurse in Lesotho told The Standard in a telephone interview.
Nurses after attending a court session following a past industrial dispute. Poor pay and working conditions has led to mass exodus of nurses for opportunities abroad.
[PHOTOS: ISAAC WALE/FILE/STANDARD]
She adds: "We have not even received a single pay slip, meaning we do not know how much we are supposed to earn. Most of us are given about Sh42,000 a month."
The cost of living in Lesotho, she says, is higher than Kenya’s.
"Food like sukuma wiki (kales) which we used to buy at home at Sh10 now costs Sh70 in Lesotho, meaning we cannot survive with the meagre Sh42,000 nor can we send anything home," she says.
The nurses say their employer in the south African country also reneged on the benefits.
"The many allowances we were promised was a mirage," she says.
In response to the complaints by nurses, the Government intends to dispatch a delegation on a fact-finding mission.
Mr Chris Rakuom, the chief nursing officer, confirmed to The Standard the nurses had raised issues that deserved attention.
"We will be visiting them in the first week of November to investigate their complaints…we cannot abandon them, they are our own," says Rakuom.
He adds: "This was a government-to-government deal and we will be seeking to hear from the Lesotho Government after we visit and listen to the nurses who have raised issues."
The nurses say owing to poor pay and high cost of living they cannot afford decent houses.
Rental houses are very expensive and some have been forced to live in cheap hotels.
"We were cheated. We want to go back home unless our working conditions are reviewed. Nobody here is telling the truth," said the nurse, who sought anonymity.
Among the promises Lesotho gave the nurses were a return air ticket every, better salaries and housing. But the nurses say they are yet to enjoy all that.
The recruitment was as a result of bilateral agreement between Kenya and Lesotho with funding from the Clinton Foundation.
According to the National Nurses Association of Kenya, more than 500 nurses leave the country yearly in search of greener pastures.
Mr Luke Simba Kodambo, the association’s chairman, says most of the nurses end up in developed countries, mostly US, UK or Australia.
"The mass exodus has been a major setback to the provision of health services as the country is already faced with a shortage of nurses," he says.
There are more than 12,000 nurses in local public and private hospitals. About 8,000 work in public hospitals. The rest are in private facilities.
Kodambo says there is a shortage of about 6,000 nurses in public hospitals.
"Nurses also migrate locally, many preferring private hospitals to public ones," he says.
He says most of those migrating to other countries are specialised with expertise in critical care. "We have a biting shortage of such nurses, but they are still leaving the country," he says.
The association, he says, has as a result entered into a partnership with Equity Bank, to give nurses loans to further their education.
"We now have three nurses with PhDs and more than 500 with Bachelors degree," says Kodambo.
In the past, he says, the highest trained nurse had an advanced diploma.
He says shortage of nursing lecturers and mentors in hospitals means that only a limited number can further their studies.
"Sadly, the number of nurses wishing to advance their training is increasing by the day," says Kodambo.
Kodambo, while addressing the association’s AGM last week in Kakamega, said more than 1,200 nurses who advanced their courses from certificate to diploma were set for promotion.
He says the Government is processing their details in readiness for their promotions.
With better terms of employment locally, flight by nurses abroad would be curbed, thus checking the brain drain to countries with the allure of ‘greener pastures’.