It is not too late to dissuade doctors from going on strike

Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU)Secretary-General Dr Chibanzi Mwachonda, address press on 24th November 2020. [Eward Kiplimo]

A strike by medics will kick off on Monday next week unless the government takes decisive action to stop it.

On November 16, 2020, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentist Board (KMPDU) issued a 21-day strike notice in conformity with Labour laws.

KMPDU outlined grievances that doctors want addressed, among them, provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical personnel, a comprehensive medical cover and compensation for health workers engaged as frontline soldiers in the fight against Covid-19.

Additionally, KMPDU wants the government to employ more doctors. By the time medics gave the strike notice, Kenya had lost 25 health workers to Covid-19, partly due to lack of PPE.

Kenyans have every reason to be worried and demand round-table discussions between government representatives and KPMDU in the remaining period. Covid-19 infections have gone up markedly and public hospitals could cave in due to the strain.

Indeed, our healthcare system is ill-equipped to handle the scale of Covid-19. The last thing anybody wants is to see medical personnel downing their tools and leaving Covid-19 patients, including other patients who need constant medical attention, to fate. Three weeks has been a long time to find a solution, but the government seems to drag its feet.

Failure by Health CS Mutahi Kagwe, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission and Council of Governors to attend a meeting with KMPDU convened by the National Assembly’s Health Committee on Wednesday sent the wrong signal.

It could be interpreted as lack of commitment on the government’s part to address the concerns raised by doctors which, in any case, are genuine and need urgent attention.

County governments, the direct employers of ost doctors, might be experiencing fiscal challenges, especially because the National Treasury, whose CS Ukur Yatani admits is going through lean times, remits funds in batches.

This severely restricts operations, but to fight Covid-19 requires extreme measures if we must win this fight. It is not too much for doctors to ask for PPE, insurance covers and compensation.

The country is entirely dependent on them to win the war against Covid-19, for without them, it will be a lost cause. We cannot afford that eventuality.

However, it is not yet too late to find a solution. Prevailing circumstances and what could happen during the strike demand that both parties to the dispute cede some ground for the sake of the Kenyan public.