Night of resolve: Medical interns stage vigil at health ministry

Intern doctors and other medical practitioners protest outside the Ministry of Health headquarters in Nairobi during day two of the Occupy MOH protests on July 9,2024 [Robert Tomno,Standard]

In a bold move that underscores the growing tension between medical interns and the government, hundreds of unposted interns held an overnight vigil outside the Ministry of Health headquarters on Monday night.

The protest, which began in the morning and continued through the night despite adverse weather and police warnings, aimed to pressure authorities to honour their commitment to post interns in accordance with the 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). 

Approximately 200–300 interns remained outside Afya House throughout the night, carrying umbrellas, plastic carpets, sleeping bags, speakers, and floodlights.

One of the intern doctors Victor Chelashow, who has not yet been posted yesterday described their action as intentional despite the cold

“We were intentional about staying, despite the rain. We had umbrellas, and we also mobilized for plastic carpets, sleeping bags, little speakers, as well as floodlights that we were going to use as we spent the night,” he said.

The sit-in invited law enforcers around 10.30pm, police citing safety concerns and threatening to move the youthful crowd to holding cells if they did not disperse. Many interns temporarily left the area but returned later in the night staying till dawn. 

Dr Chelsea-Odera Phelly, another unposted intern from Moi University, said of the motivation behind the protest, “We are here because we’ve received information that the government does not have money to pay doctors to serve Kenyans. And that is an interesting development, given the fact that the health workforce is already facing a shortage.” 

The interns’ primary demand is to be posted in accordance with the 2017 CBA. They argue that without completing their internships, they cannot obtain licenses to practice medicine or pursue further education.

Dr Phelly said, “Without the license, you cannot start a business in the healthcare field. You cannot be a doctor. You cannot be hired. And that affects our ability to even go into other ventures, even into master’s training programmess.” 

The current protest follows a 56-day strike earlier this year by the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentist Union (KMPDU). That strike ended with a court-mediated agreement, which set a 60-day deadline for the government to meet the interns’ demands.

The expiration of this deadline without resolution prompted the current vigil.  Interns expressed frustration with the lack of progress and what they perceive as broken promises from both union officials and the Ministry of Health.

Dr Chelashow said, “We’re starting to think maybe it was just hot air from both sides. We have decided we’re also going to spend the day, as well as the night here, just to air out our grievances.” 

Members of the public provided food, coffee, and beddings to the doctors during the night.

The protesters used social media to amplify their message, with the hashtag #OccupyMOH gaining traction. Videos and photos shared online showed medical practitioners sleeping on the floor outside the gates of Afya House, singing the national anthem, waving Kenyan flags, and displaying placards with messages such as “Nakhumicha must go!” referring to the current Health Cabinet Secretary.