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Support healthcare workers to defeat virus

OPINION
By Gichu Kihoro | August 24th 2020

Medics during a targeted coronavirus mass testing at the Olympic Primary school, Kibra, Nairobi County, May 26, 2020. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc across our nation and beyond, the need to keep medical personnel safe and healthy is more important than ever before.

As the individuals providing medical treatment to those that need it most, at great risk to their own health, the government must express its commitment to keep these first-line responders safe. Without them, our situation is indeed worrying. 

The government’s commitment to keep these healthcare workers safe was shown recently, with the response, led by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, to allegations of corruption related to the provision of much needed medical equipment.

Putting the accused officials on immediate suspension and commencing investigations into those alleged to have conducted themselves inappropriately is commendable.

Aside from dealing with allegations of graft that put public health at risk, President Uhuru Kenyatta seems to have placed the well-being of public health workers at the top of his agenda.

This is aimed at continuing the high level functioning of our health care system, integral for curbing the spread of Covid-19. This has included the President instructing those responsible for procurement to work double time in order to locate the highest quality protective gear 
available. He has further required that hospitals’ standards be such that they ensure the well-being of doctors by providing protective environments for those treating patients. 

Believe it or not, Kenya only has around 10,000 registered medical doctors across the country. And while over the years President Uhuru has been trying to incentivize more of our youth to study medicine, this is a long-term process. With over 700 health workers already contracting the virus, many of whom are doctors, the need to protect medical workers is more important today than ever before. 

Uhuru has time and again expressed his appreciation for those health care workers risking their lives to help our country overcome this pandemic. In one of his most memorable addresses of the pandemic, the President stated, “On behalf of a grateful nation, I extend our heartfelt and eternal gratitude to our medical professionals and health workers, for their exemplary work that is the backbone of our continuing successes in limiting Covid-19 within our borders”.

This appreciation has also been translated into direct benefits provided by the government to medical professionals. While no amount of money or benefits can truly thank individuals who risk their lives to save others, government provided incentives are still very much a step in the right direction. Thus, despite Covid-19 related budget cuts in excess of Sh70 billion, the government nevertheless allocated around Sh4 billion for welfare packages aimed exclusively at health workers. 

This comprehensive welfare package is comprised of supplementary insurance covering all hospital staff including doctors, nurses and hospital workers generally. After all, those supporting our doctors are equally dedicated and as much at risk of contracting the virus or being affected by it. 

The package is expansive and not only grantees their physical and financial well-being but also will assist those requiring emotional support. 

It’s no secret that our medical system has been long faced significant challenges. These have only been exacerbated by Covid-19. While this can be frustrating to those that have dedicated their lives to keeping Kenya healthy, the time to express that frustration is not during the pandemic. Walking off the job or protesting is not the solution.

We are lucky to have a government that understands the importance of public health and is dedicated to the future of our country’s healthcare system. It is no coincidence that one of the pillars of Uhuru’s government has been the flagship "Health Care for All” program.

Our government and citizens have already expressed their eternal gratitude to health care workers for their dedication to our well-being. What our country needs now is to work together with our health care professionals to provide them with what they need to continue their incredible work. The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union has been an excellent go-between in this regard, conveying the concerns of medical professionals to the decision makers. As Thuranira Kaugiria, Secretary-General of the union very aptly stated, Doctors are not martyrs…Doctors are not children of a lesser God”. 

They most certainly are not. If anything they are the angels on whose wings the salvation of our country will surely be delivered. 

Mr Kihoro is a Research and Data expert. [email protected]

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