The 21-day strike notice given by healthcare workers in Kenya’s Meru county is set to expire on February 5. If their grievances are not addressed by then, doctors, nurses, lab technicians and pharmacists working in government healthcare facilities will down tools.
The main grievance of the workers is that the Meru county government has not remitted their statutory dues for the months of November and December last year, amounting to a total of Sh38 million (USD$378,607). Due to this delay in payment, many have not been able to repay their loans and meet other financial commitments.
Workers have also complained that healthcare facilities are severely understaffed. Unions suspect that the staff shortage is inflicted intentionally by the county government in order to reduce the wage bill it will have to bear.
“There is a biting staff shortage and health workers are subjected to long working hours beyond the recommended 40 hours per week. The physiotherapy unit at Kanyakine Hospital was closed in 2018 due to staff shortages. The situation is dire at Meru Level Five Hospital where one doctor and one nurse serve a ward with over 60 patients,” Bakari Munoru, the Meru branch Chairperson of the Kenya National Union of Nurses, told journalists in a press conference on January 29.
According to Moses Baiyenia, the Meru County Secretary of Kenya Union of Clinical Officers, at 300 more clinical officers and 1,500 more nurses are required to address the staff shortage.
Currently the county has only 135 doctors, at least 40 of whom are on managerial duties or on study leave, the Daily Nation reported. Timothy Njeru, Meru branch secretary of Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU), insists that 80 medical practitioners should be posted at Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital.
Here, he said, “we have an oncology center and only one oncologist. For the facilities to be adequately manned, we need between 180 and 230 specialists.”