Interns crisis best exposes derelict health system

The Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union holds a procession in Nairobi advocating for the posting of medical interns and Postgraduates for fee payments. March 4, 2024. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Thousands of Kenyans are suffering after doctors downed their tools on Wednesday night following a prolonged tussle with the Ministry of Health over the implementation of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). 

Among the key issues is the perennial delay in posting intern doctors, refund of the deducted housing levy, recurrent salary delays and failure to remit statutory deductions and repayment of loans.

While a strike by health workers is detrimental to the health of the nation, especially for the vulnerable, what we cannot understand is why the National Treasury fails to adequately fund the Health ministry, which is billions of shillings it is allocated every financial year and for obvious reasons.

At the same time, health is one of the exclusive functions that falls under county governments with each level of government assigned functions it should perform without interfering with the functions of the other arm of government.

However, the national government has continued to stick with fundamental functions, which are seen as a deliberate design to keep hold of the massive funds allocated to them, including by the donor community. This must stop.

The big issue at this time is that over 1,200 medical interns are yet to be deployed more than a year after spending up to six years to complete their studies.

As the union has previously noted, the timely posting of interns is not only a contractual obligation of the ministry but also a crucial part of the effective function of the country’s healthcare system.

Hence, their delayed deployment hampers their licensing as doctors as well as the delivery of essential medical services to the public.

We note that Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha acknowledges that her ministry is ‘a small stakeholder’ in health matters and that health is a devolved function. 

She recently complained that the interns and their unions managed to put internship in the CBA, which they reinforced by granting themselves a salary of Sh206,000 per month.

What baffles many is that the ministry has a problem with this yet the interns perform many duties in hospitals (on behalf of consultant doctors) and are fully qualified for deployment.

The ideal way forward is for the ministry to dialogue with the unions and county governments to ensure a long-lasting solution is found to avert similar situations in the future. 

This can be done by ensuring concrete steps are taken to address the systemic issues hindering the progression of these aspiring healthcare professionals.

The current strike should serve as a shame to the nation at a time the same professionals are being discouraged from seeking greener pastures.