Last batch of Cuban doctors elated on arrival despite court order

Cuban doctors arrive at JKIA on June 7, 2018. [Jonah Onyango/Standard]
A few minutes before 10.00 pm on Thursday, the flight carrying the last batch of the 100 Cuban doctors contracted to work in Kenya touched ground at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

After an intense check at the immigration desk that lasted almost two hours, they started streaming into the three waiting buses ready to ferry them to the Kenya school of government where 50 of their colleagues who arrived two days before were being inducted.

They were coming in a few days after the court barred them from being deployed until the case challenging the legality of their contracts with the government is delivered on June 19.

Director of Medical Services Jackson Kioki who was at the airport to receive them declined to talk to the press, insisting that they had said everything when the first batch was received.

Despite the wrangles that have defined the process of bringing them in, the doctors seemed elated and they waved at locals before resuming their conversations in Spanish.

Insiders at the Kenya school of government told Standard on Saturday that at the training ground, the doctors are inquisitive of the Kenyan culture and they have been acquainting themselves with meals and language, especially Swahili.

“They listen to Kenyan music and they have been trying out foods like Ugali and chapatti. They are very excited about being in the country,” said one of the officials at the school of government.  

Popularly known as ejercito de batas blancas, loosely translated to ‘army in white lab coats’, Cuban doctors have always been enthusiastic to go on mission in remote countries despite the many hurdles some of them report while on outside assignment.

Their ties with Kenya has particularly been painful; right from when government announced plans to contract them last year.

The medical union and some leaders in counties put up a spirited fight, saying unemployed Kenyan doctors should be given priority when the government is hiring.

The official website of the ministry of foreign affair in Cuba described the doctors’ arrival as unprecedented in the history of bilateral ties, without mentioning the impending court case that will determine whether they practice in the country or are sent back to Cuba.

More than 37,000 Cuban nationals are currently working in 77 countries in overseas medical missions. They earn their country close to Sh800 billion annually, with Kenya being the latest addition to countries benefiting from Cuba’s biggest export – doctors.

In April, government announced that in addition to the 100 doctors, there will be another team of 10 who will be coming to help in eradication of malaria. The 10 were supposed to be based in 8 counties in Western region for vector control.

Since the announcement, not much has been said of the team, and whether the deal is still on.

“When I saw the first team arriving, I was hoping they would tell us about the malaria people, but it is like they forgot about it,” says Andrew Ojwang’, a community health worker in Kuria who says malaria continues to ravish people in the region. 

Waqo Ejersa, the Head National Malaria Control Programme at the Ministry of Health (MoH), says the 10 specialists were not part of the 100 Cuban doctors who arrived. He adds that plans are still underway to have the specialists who will be fighting malaria by managing the parasite at larvae stage.

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