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Kenyan Government should sort out mess in health sector

By Standard Reporter | Jan 2nd 2015 | 3 min read

Kenyans are in an optimistic mood because of the New Year, but there are fears we may see a repeat of last January when several lives were lost in hospitals after health workers went on strike.

At the heart of the strike was what the health workers referred to as "the haphazard manner in which the Government had devolved the sector without putting proper legal structure in place".

The strike, which started in December 2013 was only broken after the Government promised, among other things, to speedily bring into the National Assembly a Health bill to address the said grievances.

Some Cabinet secretaries, the Transition Authority, Council of Governors and some constitutional office holders said the bill would be ready for presentation to Parliament by last year, February.

Almost a year later, The Health Bill 2014 is still with the Constitution Implementation Commission (CIC) where it is indicated to be going through internal review and stakeholder consultations.

Among issues to be addressed by the Health Bill 2014, include terms of service, training, promotion and transfer of health personnel, among other issues that are at the centre of the current strike threat.

Medical workers in Kiambu have threatened to go on strike over these issues and have promised to cause a nationwide strike because their colleagues elsewhere are facing similar issues.

Nurses are also threatening to go on strike on similar grounds. They have also faulted a suggestion by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission to have some of their allowances slashed.

The draft Health Bill 2014, is categorical that no benefits of a public servant shall be altered to their disadvantage.

Most of the answers the health workers are asking are contained in the draft Health Bill 2014 and a genuine spirit by the government to present the Bill for discussion in Parliament may very likely delay or eliminate the need for the looming strike.

While many of the health workers seem to have given in to the fact that the their services have been devolved, their unions, for understandable reasons, are still fighting to have human resources in the sector managed from a central point.

Health workers and union their union leaders believe devolution will kill their collective bargaining power.

In that scenario, with the county authorities retaining the authority to hire or fire health workers, the national government lacks authority to determine their terms of service and can only offer policy advise.

The draft Health Bill 2014 recognises that health services have been devolved. It does not provide for a National Health Service Commission on the lines of the Teachers Service Commission, which manages teachers' affairs.

The ministry must speedily bring the Health Bill to Parliament and sort out the mess in the health sector. Workers' unions must also seek innovative ways of engaging more with county governments, which now employ their members.

County managers must change their mindset and belief that trade unionists are meddlers but see them as a necessary and important component of a vibrant democracy.

There is need for all players in the sector to work together for sanity to prevail in the sector.

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