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Cuban doctors' mission comes to quiet end

 Cuban doctor Maikel Rodriguez Tamajo examines a patient at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Kisumu on July 5, 2018. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

It has been six years of mixed fortunes for 47 specialists and 53 family doctors from Cuba flown in as part of efforts to address human resource challenges rocking Kenya's public sector.

In the aftermath of their controversial arrival in 2017, the Ministry of Health has officially declared terminated their contract.

Health CS Susan Nakhumicha announced the move is meant to strengthen Kenya's health human resource. "As a ministry, and as your CS, we shall have a motivated workforce and well taken care of. I am pleased to announce that we shall not be renewing the agreement for the Cuban doctors," the CS said.

She added, "...because I want to believe that our own are going to be committed to the course."

Before the pronouncement by Nakhumicha on Wednesday, a source at the Ministry of Health had hinted to The Standard that the doctors had been recalled from the counties and deployed to the Kenya School of Government. But they had no role at the government institution.

"The Cuban doctors are no longer working as per their earlier agreement in their respective work stations after being recalled to the Kenya School of Government," the source said.

The Cuban doctors were deployed to work in Kenyan hospitals and in exchange, some doctors from Kenya were deployed to Cuba for training.

In 2018, the first batch of specialists arrived in Kenya. Among them were 47 specialists and 53 family doctors.

Shortage of specialists

The deployment was meant to bridge the shortage of specialists and offer skills to Kenyan medics amid the high demand for specialised care.

Among the doctors' fields of specialisation were orthopaedic, surgery, radiology, family, and neurology.

But the deployment was marred with challenges from language barrier, complaints from Kenyan doctors about the disparities in pay, and failure to fit into the Kenyan work system.

The doctors could neither communicate in English nor Kiswahili, Kenya's official languages.

On deployment, the doctors were placed in Job Group S and started off on the maximum monthly pay of Sh882,180, a pay scale Kenyan doctors complained was too much in comparison with what they earn.

Some of the money was, however, being paid to the Cuban government, with the doctors' take-home amounting to Sh120,000.

But unlike the Kenyan doctors, the Cuban specialists were entitled to furnished houses, transportation to work, paid-for utilities and airfares whenever they proceeded on annual leave.

In protest, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), then led by Ouma Oluga, said it was unfair for the government to hire the doctors at a time when Kenyan doctors were jobless.

"We (doctors) do not understand why the government want to create jobs for another country, and not ours. There are about 2,000 doctors (general) and 170 specialists not employed," Dr Oluga said during one protest.

Last month, the National Assembly Health Committee joined doctors in protest against Cuban doctors.

The MPs asked the government not to renew the contract of the specialists on the grounds of them having served their intended roles, and that it was time for them to leave the country.

Robert Pukose, the committee chairperson, said: "The place of the Cuban doctors should be taken by their Kenyan counterparts, their salaries are enough to employ at least three Kenyan doctors."

Letters of deployment signed by Director of Medical Services Jackson Kioko showed the Cuban doctors were to be been posted to respective hospitals in counties. They were put on a two-year contract. The contract was renewed on June 12, 2020.

In April 2019, two Cuban doctors serving in Mandera were kidnapped by suspected Al-Shabab militia, with their bodyguard killed.

The orthopaedic surgeon and a physician, were taken to Somalia, only to be released after one year.

The Kenyan government was forced to recall all Cuban doctors in Wajir, Garissa, Lamu and Tana River counties following the incident, due to security reasons.

After the cancellation of the contract for Cuban doctors, it remains unclear if Kenyan doctors deployed in Cuba have been recalled.

Cuba has been under a trade embargo by America. Doctors in the Caribbean country are thriving in South Africa, Guinea, Venezuela and other Latin countries.

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