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Doctors' strike presents critical moment for reflection and action


Doctors and clinical officers led by their union officials demonstrated along the streets of Nairobi on April 16, 2024. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

For over a month now, I have been standing at the heart of the ongoing health crisis, deeply troubled by the suffering it brings to our citizens. The doctors’ strike has placed an immense strain on our people, leaving many vulnerable and jeopardising countless lives. 

The devolution of healthcare in Kenya was a cornerstone of our 2010 Constitution. It promised to empower counties to tailor healthcare services to the specific needs of their communities.  Since then, we have witnessed significant gains – more healthcare facilities have been built; access to essential and emergency medical care and supplies has improved; and services like maternal and child healthcare that were out of reach for many of our citizens have become more readily available.  This progress, however, is now at risk.

The current strike exposes a fundamental flaw in the system – a disconnect between the employer and the employee in the health sector. Doctors, while employed by county governments, raise grievances largely targeted at the national government. This puts county governments in an awkward position. Our frustrated residents are denied crucial services, thereby suffering the consequences of a dispute they have no stake in. The result? Avoidable deaths, prolonged illnesses, and a general sense of despair.  As leaders, we cannot stand by while Kenyans pay this heavy price. 

We must acknowledge the frustration of our doctors, who are the backbone of our healthcare system. They deserve decent working conditions, competitive salaries, and a supportive environment where they can deliver quality care. However, we cannot allow this frustration to translate into the weaponisation of healthcare.  Strikes are a blunt instrument in such a situation. They inflict collateral damage on the very people doctors dedicate their lives to serving.

Let’s be honest – counties, the principal employers of doctors, have put their best foot forward to strengthen healthcare systems.  The Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) in a recent letter to the Head of Public Service outlined 19 unresolved issues stemming from the signed 2017 CBA. If we are to be honest with each other, matters to be implemented by county governments have been largely addressed, demonstrating a commitment to follow through on mandated terms.

For example, over 800 doctors are presently away on study leave enjoying full, hundreds more have been promoted based on merit, while counties have provided adequate medical cover in line with the 2017 CBA. Counties have also endeavoured to clear all salary arrears. It is important to recognise that each of the 47 counties may encounter unique challenges and circumstances, resulting in variations in the implementation of various initiatives. Nevertheless, the unwavering commitment of counties to improving the healthcare sector is undeniable.

History teaches us valuable lessons.  From the end of apartheid in South Africa to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, countless conflicts have been resolved through dialogue and compromise.  There is no issue, however complex, that cannot be overcome through open communication and a sincere commitment to find common ground.

Let us be clear – this is not a time for grandstanding. Every hour spent at a stalemate is an hour stolen from a Kenyan in need.  The national and county governments, healthcare workers’ unions, and all stakeholders must prioritise the well-being of our citizens.

This doctor’s strike presents a critical moment for reflection and action. It is a test of our resolve as leaders and our commitment to the principles of democracy and good governance. Let us seize this opportunity to reaffirm our dedication to serving the people and building a healthcare system that leaves no one behind.

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