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Doctors threaten strike over delayed internships

 KMPDU Secretary-General Davji Bhimji addresses the press on January 31, 2024. [Samson Wire, Standard]

The doctor’s union has issued a strike threat to the Ministry of Health demanding immediate internship placements for over 1,000 medical graduates.

Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) said they will down tools on March 1, if the demands are not met.

KMPDU Secretary General Davji Bhimji Atella said doctors in the 47 counties will go on a three-day strike.

"On Feb 29, 2024, all medical interns will go to the Ministry of Health to collect their internship letters failure to which from March 1, doctors will down their tools in solidarity with the interns or a notice will follow," said Dr Atella.

The union, speaking in Nairobi, faulted the ministry and National Treasury for the continued delay in releasing funds to place 1,215 medical graduates into internships across the country.

“This indefensible delay not only tramples upon the constitutional rights of these dedicated medical professionals but also places an imminent threat on patient care in public hospitals,” said Dr Atella.

He questioned the government's commitment to Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) saying newly graduated doctors remain unemployed months after finishing medical school. "The government must cease its empty rhetoric on UHC and start fulfilling its obligations to the health sector, prioritising the well-being of both providers and the patients," he said.

He spoke on Tuesday during the solidarity meeting which brought together medical graduates from different universities across the country. The union termed the delay unjustifiable. They said it does not only affect interns but also the public. They argued that the delay in posting of medical interns heaps additional burdens on already overworked, underpaid and ill-motivated healthcare professionals.

They listed heightened fatigue, burnout, and an undeniable decline in the standards of patient care. "This is an egregious violation and blatant disregard for the well-being of both healthcare workers and the patients they ought to serve," added Dr Atella.

The frustrated graduates, some of whom traveled from as far as Maseno University, demanded immediate internship postings, claiming the long wait has taken a toll on their mental health and finances.

"Right now, my mental health is something that I cannot explain, I urge the government to prioritise our mental health because there is a lot of depression going on," said Harry Otieno, a medical graduate from the University of Nairobi.

On Monday 12, 2024, medical graduates protested outside Afya House, over delays in internship placement.

The procedure for posting interns is detailed in the National Guidelines for Internship Training of Medical and Dental Officer Interns (2019).

In December 2022, there was a standoff between graduate doctors and the national and county governments over internship placement. Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha directed that medical interns be posted in batches starting in January 2023.

Now in February 2024, a similar standoff is happening.

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