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More pain for the sick as doctors begin nationwide strike today


Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists' Union officials march in Kisii town last week. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Sick Kenyans will have to seek treatment in private hospitals as doctors in public hospitals begin their nationwide strike today.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union (KMPDU) Wednesday said the decision was arrived at due to a lack of consensus with the government on issues affecting healthcare workers across the country.  

“Despite the tireless efforts of the medical professionals and their unwavering dedications to provide quality care to all Kenyans, the government’s response has been inadequate and devoid of the necessary urgency to resolve these issues effectively,” said Secretary-General Davji Atellah.

His statement came as Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition MPs called for the resignation of Health CS Susan Nakhumicha and her Principal Secretary Mary Muthoni over failure to avert the strike.

Speaking in Nairobi, Dr Atellah accused the government of reluctance in resolving the raised issues.

“Regrettably, the government has shown a lack of willingness to address these pressing concerns, leaving healthcare workers in a state of frustration and dismay. Therefore, it is with great disappointment that we announce the commencement of a nationwide strike starting from midnight today March 13, 2024,” he said.

The strike is centred around demand for mandatory medical internship postings for over 4,000 medical graduates. The Ministry of Health, however, insists that the deployment of the current batch of medics will require Sh4.9 billion, with each intern earning Sh206,000 per month, which it says it cannot afford.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi led more than 12 legislators in accusing the Health CS and PS of incompetence, saying they will be held responsible for any deaths as the strike kicks off.

Opposition MPs are now terming the unavailability of funds as incompetence on the part of the ministry’s top brass and have reprimanded CS Nakhumicha over the “casual, reckless, incompetent and overly simplistic manner” in which she has handled the matter.

“If the Health CS unable to make the National Treasury release funds for a critical ministry like hers, she has no option but to quit… It is incompetence of the worst type for the CS to keep lamenting that the National Treasury has not given her money. It is not for the doctors or Kenyans to look for money from the National Treasury. That is the work of the CS,” said Wandayi.

The leader noted that throughout the stand-off leading  to the strike, the ministry had acted like an uncaring bystander, with its attitude oscillating between cowardice, contempt and incompetence.

“We wish to make it clear that we stand with the doctors in this strike and their demands. It is our understanding that the doctors are not fighting for themselves. They are fighting for Kenyans, and especially those with no capacity to seek health services in private hospitals and therefore must make do with public hospitals,” added the minority leader. 

Nyatike MP Tom Odege claimed that competing groupings fighting for control of the ministry had emerged within the Ministry of Health.

That, he said, coupled with the big lapse in communication between the CS and her PS, had led to the duo not delivering on their mandate.

“Instead of calling for a meeting with the union leadership to avert the strike, the ministry wanted to meet directly with the interns and bypass the leadership and this reflected badly on their part. The CS is also saying one thing and her PS saying another. They should both resign with immediate effect,” said Odege.

Bumula MP Jack Wamboka accused the Kenya Kwanza administration of misplacing its priorities and urged it push for allocation to pay doctors.

“The budget allocated to State House, for instance, is larger than that going to counties while the refurbishment of the Deputy President’s house cost higher than the amount that was originally used to put it up. This is impunity,” said Wamboka.

Seme MP James Nyikal said the looming strike was a clear demonstration of the serious mismatch of policies, roles and responsibilities that he opined runs across the entire Kenya Kwanza administration.

“What is it that the Ministry of Health did not see coming? It is the policy of the government that interns should be posted 30 days after graduation,” said Nyikal.

Public hospitals, which provide most of the secondary and tertiary medical care, will have their emergency rooms, dialysis units, oncology units, obstetric and neonatal departments and other sections shut.

“We demand that the ministry shares with Kenyans its plans for Kenyans to access emergency treatment, critical care, maternity care, neonatal care and trauma during this strike,” said Nyikal.

Meanwhile, the Health PS has pleaded with the union not to proceed with the countrywide strike.

“I am pleading with the unions to come to the table so that we can move forward together. I am also pleading with them that they don’t go on strike,” Muriuki said on Citizen TV.

The PS acknowledged that there have been unresolved issues between the ministry and the union, but added that striking would not be the best course of action.

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