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Helpless patients in agony as facilities suspend vital services

 Stranded patients at Nakuru level 5 hospital on March 14, 2024, following the Nationwide strike. [File, Standard]

The lives of several patients admitted to public facilities across the country were yesterday hanging by a thread as facilities suspended vital services following the doctor’s strike.

In maternity wards, expectant mothers requiring urgent checkups were in agony while patients requiring urgent surgeries were on the verge of losing hope.

For some patients, the absence of doctors meant that they could not even get a green light for a referral or a discharge to enable them to get help in private facilities. Other facilities hurriedly discharged patients prematurely, leaving their relatives in a state of confusion. 

Cynthia Nafula* held her wheezing 15-month-old son Jasper tightly, desperation etched across her face as they were turned away from the paediatric unit at Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi.

Jasper’s* appointment with the paediatrician he had been seeing for months was abruptly cancelled - a casualty of the nationwide strike. She was among the many mothers whose children were scheduled for appointments with doctors but were turned away. A clinical officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said the impact of the doctors’ strike has been particularly devastating on the hospital’s inpatient wards and critical care units. The hospital’s paediatric units has closed, and currently, doctors who are employed by the hospital are the ones attending to patients although services are slow despite the crowding waiting bays.

“Critical condition patients are simply not being attended to,” said the clinical officer, who asked to remain anonymous.

At Mombasa’s Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital, Ngina Kimuyu was distraught and stranded with her sickly father who needed urgent heart surgery.

The old man, 72, was admitted to the hospital three months ago waiting for his turn to undergo surgery to stop the heart from swelling. On Thursday, Ms Kimuyu said she had secured blood to facilitate her father’s surgery.

However, her excitement was cut short after she received a call asking her to pick the old man up because the surgery would not take place due to the doctor’s strike.

She said her father had waited for surgery for three months due to high patient numbers at the hospital. CGTRH is the biggest referral hospital that serves all six counties of Mombasa, Taita Taveta, Lamu, Tana River, Kwale, and Kilifi.

Ms Kimuyu’s voice trembled as she struggled to hold back her tears. “Where am I supposed to take him now?” she pleaded, adding that the hospital had also insisted that she must pay the admission fee and other bills before they could discharge the patient.

Blood transfusion

“My dad has been discharged yet for three months he has not been able to sit because his heart is swollen. He was supposed to go into the theater yesterday but we were told he needed blood transfusion,” said Kimuyu.

However, Kimuyu’s predicament was not unique as patients in public hospitals at the Coast were left stranded after they were discharged as the nationwide doctors’ strike entered its second day.

Mariam Angaja had brought back the X-ray of her fractured fingers but found no doctor to attend to her. She was seated outside the CGTRH waiting for a friend, who is a doctor, who promised to help attend to her.

“I brought my X-ray but the medical practitioners’ strike has affected us. Up to now, I am yet to get medical services. I had one doctor who told me he would come to help, I don’t know if he will come or not. Maybe he is scared of other doctors,” said Angaja.

In Taita Taveta, Health Executive Gifton Mkaya also confirmed that critical services in public hospitals have been suspended following a doctor’s strike that entered its second day.

“The strike which started on Wednesday night is on and the national government is having talks in a bid to solve it. Yesterday they had a tripartite meeting. The ministries of health and labour and KMPDU met and we are waiting for the outcomes of the meeting,” Dr Mkaya said.

In Mount Kenya region, a visit to the Nyeri County Referral hospital revealed long queues of unattended patients.

John Kinyua a resident of Karatina, arrived at the hospital at 6am but by 11am, he had not been attended to. He was at the facility to collect his diabetes drugs.

“I came here so early hoping that I would be assisted, unfortunately, it’s now 11am and nothing has happened. I have not seen the doctor, and I am not sure if I will get my drugs today. We have been affected by the doctors’ strike,” he stated.

Similar sentiments came from Julius Kamau who hails from Tetu in Nyeri. Kamau had an appointment with the dentist, but when he arrived at the hospital the dental section was closed.

“I just got here some minutes ago but I am hopeful that I will be attended to, though the dental section is closed. I had an appointment with the dentist. I want the government and the doctors to agree because we are suffering,” said Kamau.

Brenda Nyabuto, the Nyeri KMPDU representative, said they are in solidarity with their colleagues and that they will only resume services after the government heeds their demands.

In Nyanza, expectant mothers and patients with terminal illnesses are in limbo following the strike which has so far made it difficult to access public health facilities.

Patients of tuberculosis in particular are among those on the receiving end following the doctor’s strike after they failed to find doctors at several facilities in Kisumu, Siaya, and Homa Bay.

Normally, they are assigned complete packs to last them for six months. Some require frequent checkups by a medical doctor.

This was the case for Mercy Achieng, a patient, who had gone for a refill and a checkup by a doctor at Jaramogi Teaching and Referral Hospital but had to return home because of the strike.

“Being a stable patient, I go for refills every two weeks and check-ups as I am in my first phase of treatment,” said Achieng.

Homa Bay KMPDU Liaison Officer Ochieng Otana said they will boycott work until the strike is called off by their national office.

“We have downed our tools because doctors’ demands must be met,” Dr Otana said.

In Western, patients remained stranded in Bungoma, Kakamega, Busia, and Vihiga counties yesterday as the effects of the ongoing doctor’s strike started being felt in the region.

[Report by Maryann Anyango, Joachim Bwana, Anne Atieno, Jackline Inyanji, James Omoro and Clement Masombo]

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