Following the death of 10 doctors due to COVID-19 this month, doctors, clinical officers and nurses unions in Kenya have announced their intention to go on strike on December 7. The health workers are demanding that the government provide health insurance, quality PPEs, isolation and treatment centers for health workers, pending payments, as well as fresh recruitment to address shortages.
The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) representing the doctors had issued a 21-day strike notice to the health department on November 15. The next day, health cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe announced that he had ordered the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) to negotiate an insurance package with the union.
The package that was finally offered was rejected by the KMPDU as it did not cover the doctors employed at county hospitals and in universities, including the Kenyatta University Teaching and Referral Hospital and the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital.
“It is sad that we have lost a good number of doctors who teach undergraduate and postgraduates students. These doctors are excluded from this cover, so on that note, we know the government has come out to say they provided a cover. If these doctors are not covered, then this strike will kick off until the time that they will be covered,” KMPDU general secretary Chibanzi Mwachonda said at a press conference on Tuesday, November 24.
Meanwhile, 188 doctors who were hired in August on a six-month contract are yet to be paid. They have reportedly been deployed at isolation centers and treatment wards without any medical cover or other forms of compensation for working on COVID duty.
According to Mwachonda, “The same doctors who are supposed to be working in isolation and treatment centers have now (also) been deployed to work in various departments in hospitals, in maternity units to cover shortages, so there is an acute shortage of doctors in this country.” This is increasing the spread of the disease within the medical community.
“There is an acute shortage of doctors in this country in each and every county and our demand is that each county must employ at least 50 doctors to cover for COVID and for the other services,” he said
Due to the government’s failure to address this shortage, health workers have been forced to spend up to 19 hours in hospital wards, which has increased their exposure.
The low quality of PPEs is another concern raised by the union. Mwachonda insists that PPEs of a standard quality from the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority “must be availed for the doctors and other healthcare workers.. We will not allow our members to die on the line of duty.”
Once infected as a result of these conditions, health workers have no dedicated isolation and treatment centers. Having raised this concern in writing in July, August, and again in September, the union now insists that at least one such center in each county is non-negotiable.
The government, on the other hand, has been in a state of denial of the fact that such conditions under which the health workers toil is the primary reason for the spread of the disease among them. Its “narrative that doctors are contracting Covid-19 out of hospitals must stop. You cannot come and insult us and tell us that doctors are getting Covid in bars. That is an insult to the profession and we will not take it lightly,” Mwachonda said.
The Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) issued a 14-day strike notice on November 23. Along with the above demands, the union is also insisting on compensation for the families of 18 nurses who have died on duty. “[U]pon expiry of (this notice).. the strike shall commence on December 7,” KNUN general secretary Seth Panyako said.
Simultaneously, the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) also issued its own strike notice. Should the government fail to address the concerns raised by the health workers, a strike action by all these health workers is likely to have a paralyzing effect on Kenya’s already ailing healthcare system.
The country has had a total of 78,512 positive cases of COVID-19 so far, resulting in 1,409 deaths.