Doctors ask government to protect patients, health workers amid nationwide protests

Empty parking outside Uganda House in Nairobi's city centre on Wednesday, July 19, 2023, as people kept off due to the planned anti-government demonstrations by the opposition. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

The Kenya Medical Association (KMA) has asked the government to guarantee the safety of healthcare personnel, patients and health facilities amid nationwide protests.

KMA has raised concern that during the previous protest, access to healthcare facilities for patients and healthcare providers was hindered, resulting in increased morbidity and deaths.

In a statement, KMA secretary-general Diana Marion said doctors attended to hundreds of injured people during protests, noting that they have been witnessing tens of fatalities as a result of protests.

The threats of the protest according to the association is therefore worrying.

“KMA raises concerns over the safety of patients and healthcare providers during maaandamano,” Dr Marion said in her statement.

Total of 9,696 health facilities

Data from the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Council shows that Kenya has a total of 9,696 health facilities, out of which 4,616 are public hospitals. The rest are private and faith-based. 

The Ministry of Health accounts for 42.9 per cent of the total health facilities in the country, while the private sector accounts for 37.8 per cent.

The medical council has also licensed a total of 9, 826 doctors. Of these, 2, 606 are specialists.

KMA's statement comes at a time the country is staring at a series of protests which are likely to affect service delivery, more so emergencies, as most roads remain barricaded.

During the protest, those highly affected are individuals in need of medical emergency, and women in search of delivery services, an issue which risks maternal and infant deaths.

Ambulances have also found it hard to ferry patients in a critical state to hospital, as protesters led by the opposition leader Raila Odinga begin a third wave of anti-government protest.

Kenya Medical Association (KMA) President Simon Kigondu and the association’s secretary-general Diana Marion at a past event in Mombasa on Thursday, May 11, 2023. KMA has called on the government to protect healthcare workers, patients and health facilities amid opposition protests. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Opposition leaders are using the protests to push the William Ruto administration to lower the cost of living and repeal the Finance Act 2023 to reduce the taxes the new law has imposed on Kenyans. The taxes include a 1.5 per cent levy to finance the affordable housing project, that most Kenyans are against.

Raila and his team are pushing for the lowering of prices of basic commodities, including fuel, which has hit an all-time high of over Sh194 per litre of petrol.

The opposition is also fighting increased deductions going to the National Hospital Insurance Fund in the face of the allegations of theft that have dogged the organization. Azimio la Umoja One Kenya alliance and President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza side have also disagreed over the reconstitution of the electoral commission ahead of the next elections.

The opposition has accused the government of an attempt to handpick commissioners, including the chairman following the expiry of the term of former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati.

Others sustaining injuries

Close to ten people were killed during the protests on Wednesday last week, with scores of others sustaining injuries. There was a massive looting and destruction of property, including the Nairobi Expressway, whose cost of repair, according to Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen, was Sh700 million.

The protests are expected to continue three days in a row – Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Further, the doctors' association has also encouraged individuals seeking medical attention to prioritise their safety and seek services at healthcare facilities equipped to handle emergencies.

“KMA urges healthcare providers to take necessary precautions and follow established protocols to protect themselves while continuing to provide essential medical services,” the statement said further.

KMA called on healthcare professionals to uphold patient care and support the community during times of crisis despite the challenges they may face because of the crisis.

Protesters confront anti-riot police officers in Kitengela town, Kajiado County, on Wednesday last week. [Peterson Githaiga, Standard]

Dr Marion said further: “We encourage healthcare providers to remain vigilant, maintain open communication with patients, and provide necessary medical assistance while adhering to professional ethics and code of conduct”.

Further, KMA has appealed to President Ruto and Raila, to be more accommodative, and find lasting solutions to the challenges facing the country, the appeal coming as both sides maintained their hardline positions.

Mr Odinga and his team have vowed to continue with the demonstrations until the government attends to their concerns. On the other hand, President Ruto maintained he would not allow protests.

 Peaceful resolution

“KMA appeals for calm and open dialogue to address the grievances that have led to protest while anticipating peaceful resolution of conflict and emphasizing the importance of maintaining a safe environment for the provision of healthcare services,” Marion said.

Meanwhile, health workers have called off a planned nationwide strike to allow for more negotiations with the government.

The health providers represented by various unions are demanding for employment of 20,000 workers.

The workers are also seeking the conclusion and recognition of a Collective Bargaining Agreement, accusing the state of delaying the matter since 2019. Only doctors have signed a CBA, which is under implementation.

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