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Don’t rush to condemn Bungoma nurses, ask why it came to all this

By Donald B Kipkorir | September 8th 2013

By Donald B Kipkorir

Kenya: After KTN aired the exclusive clip of alleged mistreatment of a woman in labour by nurses in Bungoma District Hospital, the social media, especially Twitter went aflame under the hashtag #thesickhospital. 

The nurses were condemned and the hospital castigated. As predictable as the sun rising, Health Secretary James Macharia suspended the nurses pending investigations.

This incident provoked my thoughts on why Kenyans like dancing on graves. Before we bend to pick stones to throw at our nurses, we must reflect on how we reached here. Nurses play a pivotal and central role in the entire human health sector.

Their origin is in the ancient world in war and religion. The nurses were there in the battlefields to nurse the wounded and dying soldiers. Early Christianity emphasized helping the sick. Infact, helping the sick gives Christian brownie points for going to heaven. The Roman Catholic Church, to which I am a member, has dedicated organisations whose calling is medical care.

Our nurses are the vital link between the doctor on one part, and the patient and community on the other. A doctor comes in for few minutes or hours to diagnose, prescribe medicine or do surgery. The nurse remains with the patient from the beginning, till his recovery or death. The processes leading to either recovery or death are emotive for any nurse.

The nurse deals with patients with minor ailments to those severely injured and those with terminal diseases. The nurses act as caregivers, counselors and therapists to our sick.

In spite of the onerous job, Kenyan nurses operate under the most distressful working environments. In England, nurses have minimum starting salaries of UK£21,388 (Sh2,918,820.36) annually. In America, it is $33,163 (Sh2,901,430.87).

In Kenya, our nurses earn Sh18,000 monthly, making it meager Sh216,000 annually. Basically, our nurses, for more work, earn thirteen times less than their colleagues in England and America. Our hospitals are in sorry physical states, lack basic equipment and absence of housing for staff. Nurses are forced to offer their best for nearly nothing in return. And we complain when they break down. Who really cares for our nurses?

The Nurses Act, Cap. 257, provides for mechanism of initiating disciplinary process against nurses. The Nursing Council, which is by and large, is established by the Cabinet Secretary for Health has to set up a Disciplinary Committee that must adhere to the rule of law. So, even as this Committee investigates the case, it must not closet itself to the existing reality of the sorry state of our nurses.

Modern medicine appreciates that certain events and situations can cause any one psychological trauma, which manifests itself in many ways. Maybe the behaviour of the nurses was caused by their working environment. The Disciplinary Committee needs to co-opt clinical psychologists so that they don’t end up punishing nurses who maybe in need of medical intervention themselves. 

As we move forward as a country, there is need to relook at all sectors of our community and re-prioritise. Thankfully, we have the Sarah Serem-led Salaries Commission, to work on logical and proper formulae of remunerating our public servants. All developed countries put their teachers, nurses and policemen at the top and not for want of reason. Without these three, we could as well be living as hunters and gatherers. Like in Europe, politicians ought to be the least paid. The pyramid of public services needs re-alignment.

For avoidance of doubt, I condemn and abhor all kinds of misconduct, but I am a firm believer in affording each individual the best recourse to our justice system. Mob justice is of yore. And blame–game is default of many.

— The writer is an advocate of the High Court

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