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Put measures in place to stem constant strikes among health workers

By The Standard | February 10th 2019

Kenya is slowly degenerating into an unfeeling society, immune to the suffering of the most vulnerable people, the sick. This week, hospital wards were empty as thousands of patients in dire need of medication languished at home, some waiting to die because nurses in most counties, are on strike.

The national and county government’s apparent insensitivity to Kenyans’ health, a fundamental basic right, continue to visit pain on many. The sector has been bungled for too long due to mediocre handling. The cyclic strikes of nurses and other medical staff, is undermining a primary pillar upon which President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda is anchored. This is body blow to the much touted Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

The nurses and other health workers have a constitutional right to agitate for better working conditions and remuneration. They are within their right to pressurise the county governments to honour the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed in 2017. The CBA, among other things provided for an increment of their monthly nursing allowance and an annual uniform allowance. The allowances, were spread in three financial years of 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21 and the first payment was to be made in June 2018.

Catastrophic results

It took five months of pain and suffering for millions of Kenyans before the CBA was signed. Before the nurses the doctors too had been on the streets demanding better pay and working terms. That the country is experiencing the same today is an indictment on the country’s systems and structures in the health sector.

There ought to be a proper and painless way labour issues in this sector are mediated before degenerating into national strikes. There should be no tendency to use the lives and health of Kenyans as a bargaining chip between the health workers and their employers. Every time the workers go on strike public hospitals are paralysed, with catastrophic results. A life lost can never be regained and what both sides haggling for pay ought to know is that deducted salaries and arrears can be backdated.

All sides in the unfolding national tragedy should let reason and sobriety prevail every time closure of health institutions or disruption of vital services, loom.

It is unfortunate that even before the current strike has been resolved the clinical officers have indicated that they too are planning to down their tools. If this is allowed to happen the health sector will continue slipping back, undermining the gains made in provision of vaccinations as well containing chronic and terminal diseases which dictate that afflicted patients are on regular dosage and observation.  

Not tenable

The governors, national government and its policy makers should resolve sticky issues triggering the cyclic strikes to safeguard lives. The current national strike affecting majority of counties should come to an end immediately and all parties go to the negotiation table armed with a template that will in future allow them to disagree without hurting patients.

The strike is happening at a time 22 counties are yet to pay or make a commitment in writing that they will pay. Seven more counties will be joining the nurses’ strike starting Monday next week. This is further compounded by assertions by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission that the Sh10,000 allowance nurses are demanding is not tenable. 

The government should at the same time, set aside sufficient resources for paying health workers and maintaining the institutions. Watchdog institutions such as Parliament and the Auditor General should up their game to ensure money budgeted for health is used prudently. This is the time for all leaders to stand up for suffering Kenyans and put in place efficient health institutions. It is a disgrace to have patients left to their own devices due to industrial actions or lack of drugs in hospitals. It should not be allowed to happen in this day and age. 

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