A parliamentary committee meeting meant to discuss the plight of doctors who have issued a strike notice turned emotional when an MP broke down yesterday.
The meeting, which ended with the summons being issued to Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, Council of Governors, Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), National Treasury and three university vice-chancellors was punctuated with MPs' narrations of their experiences with Covid-19.
Seme MP James Nyikal broke down when he narrated how doctors have been frustrated and victimised yet they sacrifice their lives to be in the frontline of the fight against Covid-19.
Nyikal, a medical doctor, revealed that his daughter who is a medic was suffering as well. He said most of the doctors' grievances were systemic and ought to be enforced, hence a strike was not necessary.
“Everyone says medicine is a calling and doctors have to be patriotic; patriotism is not suicide!” he said.
Will not listen
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The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) officials had been invited by the National Assembly Health Committee to discuss grievances in their strike notice expiring on December 6 at midnight.
Some of the issues presented by the doctors were salary arrears of those employed on contract, lack of comprehensive insurance cover, health service commission to handle human resource, denial and withdrawal of risk allowance, inadequate supply of quality personal protective equipment and victimisation by county governments where some have been fired unceremoniously.
“You cannot do this to your doctors. It is not fair…it is not fair,” said Nyikal, amid sobs as the committee vice-chair, Cherengany MP Joshua Kutuny calmed him down.
The Seme MP said doctors want a constitutional health service commission because counties will not listen to a statutory alternative of the same.
“You have killed more people by letting health workers go on strike. That is the truth. We cannot go one like this,” he said amid sobs.
Nyikal, who also served as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, said even with the necessary policies, doctors were still being frustrated by their employers.
“It is a management issue; it is not even a policy issue,” he said.
The doctors led by KMPDU Secretary General Chibanzi Mwachonda, chair Oroko Obegi and Nairobi branch Secretary Thurania Kaugiria got overwhelming support from the MPs.
Forced to raise funds
“For the first time, I have seen a Member of Parliament cry because of the pain Kenyans go through. It is sad and shameful to mistreat our healthcare workers,” said Joyce Emanikor, Turkana County MP.
Mwachonda told the committee that they are forced to raise funds to clear medical bills of colleagues, citing the case of the late Hudson Alumera who had no insurance cover and left a bill of Sh160,000.
“We have doctors employed during the Covid-19 period on six-month contracts. That already tells you there is no medical cover or compensation; still, they have not been paid and this is November,” he said.
“If we do not get any compensation, we will not risk our lives. We have been patriotic enough and this has broken the camel’s back,” he added.
Covid-19 has claimed the lives of 10 doctors and more than 30 health workers.
Ndhiwa MP Martin Owino narrated how he lost his brother, a medical doctor, after being driven around the city looking for a hospital with space in the intensive care unit until he succumbed.
“If I sit in this committee and I lost my brother in those circumstances, what about the ordinary Kenyan,” he posed.
Dadaab MP Mohamed Duale weighed in on the doctors’ plight, saying his recovery from the SARS-CoV-2 infection would not have been possible if he was still a practising medic.
“Our discussions today are one-sided; there is no disagreement. I wish Ministry of Health, Salaries and Remuneration Commission were to respond,” Duale said, adding that he lost an uncle after he failed to get oxygen at Garissa County Referral Hospital.
In efforts to ensure the doctors' grievances are addressed before the expiry of the strike notice, the committee vice-chair dedicated next week to discuss the issue.
“This issue of meeting people separately is what will prolong the problem,” he said as he scheduled another meeting for November 25, which will be attended by the Health Cabinet Secretary, SRC, Council of Governors, National Treasury, vice-chancellors of Moi University, Kenyatta University and University of Nairobi.
The vice-chancellors are to answer why doctor-lecturers and those working in health facilities in their institutions have not been factored to receive risk and call allowances.