Health CS Nakhumicha has failed to engage our doctors well


Health CS Susan Nakhumicha addressing the media at Afya House on March 18, 2024, after meeting KMPDU officials over the standoff of UHC and Intern posting. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

There are three sectors that will be critical to how President William Ruto’s tenure is judged after he leaves office (be that in 2027 or 2032): agriculture, education and health.

The three sectors touch every household and represent possible bases for cementing the social contract between our people and the government.

Unfortunately, so far it is abundantly clear that the President does not have the right personnel to lead the relevant ministries; and does not appear to prioritise these sectors.

Take the ongoing standoff between the Health Cabinet Secretary and medical professionals. The doctors’ strike is imposing real costs on Kenyans.

The doctors insist that the ministry has failed to honour the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2017 following a 100-day strike.

The ministry, on its part, falsely insists it is under no obligation to honour what it considers to have been mistakes in the original CBA, even though the original document has legal force.

All indications are the ministry is acting in bad faith, and wants to bully the doctors and medical interns into accepting the government’s preferred terms of contract.

Ominously, the Cabinet Secretary in charge appears happy to drag the standoff on, despite the cost to patients.

Recall that during the last strike several patients died in public hospitals as a direct result of the unavailability of doctors.

The current standoff comes at a time when the government is also restructuring the entire public health insurance system. The rollout of the Social Health Insurance Fund (SHIF), which is meant to raise the ceiling of household contributions, has been marred by confusion over the start date.

More importantly, the government has done a poor job of positioning the reform and move away from the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) as a new social contract with Kenyans.

Instead, all we seem to be getting is a name change and higher premiums.

It is high time the health ministry realised that healthcare ought to be the basis of creating community and bonds among Kenyans. It is supposed to be a site of policymaking where we showcase our best side as far as collective action goes.

The CS should therefore adopt less of a wapende wasipende approach, and more of a collaborative approach in dealing with the different issues in the sector – including the doctors’ strike.

The writer is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University

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