That the health crisis resulting from a national strike by nurses has dragged on for several months is yet another clear and depressing indication of indifference among the country’s political and bureaucratic class to the welfare of ordinary Kenyans.
Since June 5, millions of Kenyans have been unable to access basic and crucial health services in public facilities across the country due to a dispute between nurses and various government agencies over the signing of a collective bargaining agreement.
Critical health services including antenatal, postnatal, outpatient care and vaccination are no longer available to Kenyans in public hospitals, but politicians and bureaucrats in the national and county governments are still strutting around as if nothing is amiss.
In other countries, this lack of access to healthcare by the majority of the population would have been treated as an emergency or a crisis, but in Kenya it is business as usual.
Despite the rhetoric, the political class, which enjoys public-funded generous health insurance covers allowing them access to high-end private facilities both locally and abroad, does not appreciate the suffering that many Kenyans are going through.
On the contrary, the majority of the population relies heavily on public health facilities because they cannot afford healthcare in private facilities.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto as well as Opposition leaders have largely ignored the issue and instead focused on political campaigns with their eyes on top public offices. The same attitude is displayed by county leaders.
It is amazing that the absence of healthcare in public hospitals has not featured in the campaigns of the main political blocs as one would ordinarily expect; the matter is being ignored as if it doesn’t exist.
The few public statements by politicians and Government bureaucrats have so far been limited to issuing threats to sack the nurses or urging them to return to work without offering solutions to the sticking points that precipitated the strike in the first place.
The Council of Governors has even advertised some of the nurses' positions, seeking to replace them through one-year contract terms.
The claim that the money demanded by nurses as salaries and allowances (estimated to be Sh10 billion per year) is too much may not be convincing if one considers the intolerable amounts of money lost in Government through waste and outright graft.
The Salaries and Remuneration Commission has also reportedly vetoed some agreements between nurses and county governments, worsening the crisis.
The media on the other hand continues to highlight the healthcare crisis but not adequately enough to push the political class to action to resolve the matter. One of the main TV stations, KTN News, aptly dubbed the strike 'The Forgotten Strike' in a recent report.
In this election season, the media has understandably focused on politics but the healthcare crisis deserves a big spot in the headlines because of the suffering many are facing.
Similarly, Kenyans who should be united and at the forefront of demanding from politicians a quick resolution of the strike to ease their suffering have unfortunately been distracted by the electioneering fervour.
The strike comes barely months after another one last December that was called off after nurses were lured back to work with promises of the signing of a CBA. And instead of putting heads together to resolve the strike, everyone is busy shifting the blame. This demonstrates the nonchalant attitude in managing the country’s health sector.
Reports indicate that many Kenyans who cannot afford private healthcare are resorting to self-medication at home, while others, especially in border counties, are crossing the Kenyan border for healthcare.
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The number of Kenyans who may have died as a result of the unresolved strike has not been documented.
It is well known that nurses are the backbone of the healthcare sector in Kenya and without them, services are effectively paralysed even when the other cadres of health workers are available.
That’s why the resolution of the strike needs more urgent attention and political will. Kenyans are tired of the excuses and buck-passing by politicians and bureaucrats.
Ally Jamah is a media practitioner based in Nairobi. [email protected]