End doctors strike for UHC dream to remain on course

KMPDU officials have accused governors of frustrating their negotiations with the national government. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

The doctors’ strike enters its third week today with no light at the end of the tunnel. 

Meanwhile, Kenyans continue to suffer from non-delivery of services at public hospitals and other health facilities. Despite assurances from President William Ruto that the government is committed to dialogue with the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) for a solution, nothing is showing.

On Wednesday, a stakeholders meeting at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre failed to reach consensus on implementation of the 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which is the bone of contention, after the government side walked out.

KMPDU now says they were about to reach an agreement but the progress was scuttled after the Council of Governors opposed the draft deal. Health is a devolved function, hence the county government have a big say. Kenya has a history of extended doctors’ strikes beginning with the 1994 one which lasted 105 days as 3,000 doctors agitated for registration of KMPDU and better working conditions. 

In 2017, KMPDU called a strike that last more than 100 days and it was this industrial action that birthed the CBA that it now wants implemented.

The most recent one was in December 2020, which lasted five days, when doctors after going through torturous experiences tackling the Covid-19 pandemic during which they grappled with inadequate facilities and other essentials, especially Personal Protective Equipment that put their lives in danger and even witnessing their colleagues die for lack of medical insurance, downed their tools to demand implementation of the CBA. Though the court ordered the government to do so, it did not and hence the current stalemate.

Among the issues KMPDU wants addressed include provision of medical insurance for members to get the same treatment they offer, promotions, medical cover and payment of postgraduate fees.

But the elephant in the room is the issue of 3,580 intern doctors yet to be posted yet the guidelines say it should be done within a month after graduation. This has stalled their careers since they cannot be registered to practise as doctors. 

Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha has previously said that failure to post the interns, who form 27 per cent of staff in the public health sector, is because the unions managed to include them in the CBA and reinforced their pay to Sh206,000 a month.

This, she told MPs, will require Sh4.9 billion annually to implement, which the ministry does not have. If the government is serious about Universal Health Coverage, these are some of the issues that should be on its priority list, since adequate staff holds key to its success.

This can be done by curbing wastage and redirecting savings from austerity measures to the health sector.