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Health crisis persists as lab technicians' strike enters day 53

Kenya's healthcare crisis shows no signs of abating as the medical laboratory technicians strike enters 53 days.

The laboratory technicians have blamed the industrial action which has paralysed laboratory services in hospitals across the country on government's refusal to recognise the Kenya National Union of Medical Laboratory Officers (KNUMLO) and address their demands for better terms, including risk allowance and comprehensive medical cover.

Despite attempts by the union to initiate negotiations, the Ministry of Health has remained silent. "We have tried reaching out to the Ministry, but unfortunately, they have not given us an opportunity to sit down and discuss these issues," said KNUMLO chairperson Nicholas Odipo. 

On May 17, the union was invited to a conciliation meeting at the Ministry of Labour, but the Health Cabinet Secretary and the Council of Governors did not show up, a move Odipo termed contempt.

The KNUMLO chairperson said they met all requirements and requested recognition from 40 counties in July 2023, but only six counties signed the recognition agreement. The remaining 34 counties have denied them recognition yet expect them not to strike or seek dialogue.

The absence of laboratory services has crippled services with about 70 per cent of hospital visits requiring lab services such as blood tests and screening. Initially allowing blood transfusion services as an emergency provision, the union withdrew this service on Monday to pile pressure on the government.

"The moment there's no blood being screened or donated, we only give it three to four days, then a crisis will start," Odipo said, noting that counties like Mombasa had already started feeling the pinch of withdrawal of the service.

On Wednesday, KNUMLO secretary general Pius Nyakundi vowed that the strike would go on.

"One thing that is our irreducible minimum is that we are not going back to work without a recognition agreement, which is a right and not a privilege," said Nyakundi.

Apart from the recognition agreement, another bone of contention is the removal of risk allowance from lab technicians' payslips despite their daily exposure to infectious substances, chemicals, and radiation.

The union also wants counties to provide comprehensive medical cover, which the majority currently do not offer, forcing members to dig into their pockets for healthcare.

As the stalemate persists, patients continue to bear the brunt due to lack of access to essential medical services. 

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