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Clinical officers begin strike as crisis in health sector worsens

 Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) Chair Peterson Wachira (center) flanked by other health officials. [File, Standard]

As the Easter season comes to a close, patients across the country are waking up to yet another twist in the already complicated situation in the health sector.

 Clinical officers have joined the striking doctors. Announcing the start of the strike yesterday, the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) advised Kenyans to seek medical services from private facilities and other providers as “Clinical Officers in national and county government hospitals begin an indefinite nationwide strike today” (Sunday Midnight).

 Doctors in the county and referral facilities have already been out of work for more than two weeks now. Services are expected to be further disrupted in over 4,000 public health facilities across the country.

 At a press conference in Nairobi yesterday, KUCO National Chair, Peterson Wachira, said that the strike is a response to the inaction of the Ministry of Health and Council of Governors in addressing their grievances despite negotiations dragging on for years.

 Wachira added that clinical officers have been forced to resort to industrial action after years of unresolved negotiations with the government over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and other critical issues that have hindered the delivery of quality healthcare services.

 “Negotiations for the CBA have been ongoing since 2017 without any meaningful progress,” said George Gibore, the KUCO Secretary General.

 “This protracted period, spanning two life cycles of a CBA, is a clear testament to the lack of commitment from the government’s side.”

 The clinical officers’ key demands include the issuance of permanent and pensionable employment letters to staff hired for Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) and the Covid-19 response.

They also cited the failure to address stagnation in career progression, implementation of a previously agreed risk allowance, approval of career guidelines, and delays in providing comprehensive medical cover.

 The Union’s Secretary General said some clinical officers have not been promoted since the introduction of devolution in 2013 and accused the government of collaborating with the private sector “to kill the public sector.”

 The union had issued a seven-day strike notice seven days ago.

 In the notice, the union lamented that clinical officers have been struggling with perennial delays of salaries, lack of promotions and resignations, a dire shortage of clinical officers in hospital facilities, and discriminatory contracts.

 “The perennial issues affecting service delivery by Clinical Officers, including a dire shortage of over seventy thousand Clinical Officers, discriminatory and exploitative short-term contracts, and failure to implement approved staff establishments for interns, among others, persist unabated,” said Gibore.

 KUCO says it has followed all legal mechanisms, including issuing strike notices and unsuccessful conciliation attempts, leaving them no option but to strike.

 “Despite the commitment made in ‘The Kericho Declaration On Human Resources for Health in Kenya’ signed on October 18, 2023, to address these issues within specific timelines, no tangible progress has been made,” he added.

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