Kenyan doctors & nurses continue strike and defy threats

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Kenya Medical Practicioners Pharmacists and Dentist Union members marching during their strike

STRIKING Kenyan doctors and nurses have made it clear that no threat will force them back to hospitals.

Nurses and clinical officers stood their ground after a meeting meant to resolve their strike flopped.

They were joined on strike by doctors on Monday with both doctors and nurses demanding better working conditions and enhanced allowances, among other issues.

Doctors had suspended their strike for 14 days to allow for more talks, but on Saturday, they announced resumption of the strike on Monday.

Doctors on Sunday vowed not to return to work until the Government addresses their demands.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentist Union (KMPDU) declared a nationwide strike for 7,200 doctors starting at midnight on Sunday joining clinical officers and nurses in the industrial action.

Clinicians and nurses began their strike on December 7 and have been in and out of a series of meetings since.

The strikers are defying Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe who directed county governments to fire all healthcare workers who are on strike.

Kagwe told Governors to advertise vacancies and urged the more than 8,000 nurses who are currently jobless to apply for the positions.

He said: ‘The counties should start recruiting new health workers to replace the ones on strike.

If the striking workers continue being adamant, the nurses who are at home without jobs should be employed.’

Kagwe stressed that the courts issued orders stopping the strike to give room for dialogue between the government and health workers.

He added that it is wrong for health workers to go on strike during the festive season when many road accidents happen, adding that they should have continued working, claiming that the government was looking for amicable solutions to their grievances.

Healthcare workers are demanding adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), comprehensive medical cover, and risk allowances for those on the frontline fighting Covid-19.

However, on Sunday, officials of the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) and Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) said they were called to the Ministry of Labour offices for an impromptu meeting for a possible return-to-work formula deal, but none of the government officials was present.

Kuco chair Peterson Wachira said: ‘We were told to come and sign an offer on the table … only to arrive and find the decision makers on the ground not present. We have no deal and the strike continues as announced.’

Wachira said the ongoing talks for the past two weeks were bound to fail since neither the Ministry of Health nor Council of Governors officials were present.

KUCO General Secretary George Gibore. Said: ‘Unfortunately we were here by 10am. The secretariat (in charge of the negotiations) asked us to wait for the Labour CS (Cabinet Secretary) and CoG (Council of Governors) chair. At 1pm we were told they were not coming.’

Gibore warned that no healthcare worker, including the ones being hired, would return to work until the government meets all their demands.

KMPDU Secretary General Chibanzi Mwachonda said it has been eight months of engagement in the context of Covid-19 and that doctors were tired of seeing their colleagues losing their lives with little care from the Government.

Addressing the media in Kisii on Sunday, Mwachonda said it was sad that doctors who are front line workers in the fight against Covid-19 did not have Group Life and Accident Cover to protect them in case they are infected with Covid-19.

Mwachonda  warned: ‘Doctors have said that they are not going to endanger their lives anymore. We are saying no to suicide mission.

‘We have one doctor serving 10,000 Kenyans. The government needs to take our demands seriously, since we are ready to serve Kenyans.’

He pointed out that all health sector unions had in 2013 protested at the haphazard transfer of medical services to the counties and that the only solution was the creation of a constitutional Medical Service Commission to take care of their welfare.

Mwachonda said no amount of intimidation or threats will make his members change their mind.

Counties such as Kisumu have issued notices to sack medics. The notice, signed by the county Chief Officer in charge of Health and Sanitation Gregory Ganda, directed the medics to return to work in seven days, or lose their jobs.

CoG Chair Wycliffe Oparanya said the demands of the healthcare workers were beyond the counties.

He claimed: ‘The demands being made by health workers like risk allowances and having a health commission can only be handled by the national government, not counties. Devolved units have no powers to form the Health Service Commission through the county assemblies.’

‘Besides, the issue of allowances is a preserve of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission,’ said Oparanya, who is also Kakamega governor.

Kenya National Union of Nurses Deputy Secretary-General Maurice Opetu said the government was not committed to ending the impasse.

Opetu demanded: ‘He (Health Cabinet Secretary) should redirect those threats to Kenya Medical Supplies Authority to release the personal protective equipment and the Covid-19 billionaires.

‘If he thinks they will replace us with young medics, while the likes of Dr Stephen Mogusu are dying from the virus, then he is getting it wrong.’

Doctors leader Mwachonda thanked the Parliamentary Health Committee for ‘trying’ to mediate in the matter and accused some senior government officials for politicising health.

He said doctors could not wait to die as they watch with their government caring less.

Dr Mwachonda added: ‘Even as we launch the nationwide doctors strike, KMPDU remain open for negotiation with the government. We need a comprehensive medical cover for doctors since just like other medical staff.’

KMPDU chairman Oroko Obegi accused some senior government officials for misadvising President Kenyatta on the issue of doctors since he had shown he cared for the health of Kenyans by launching Universal Health Care cover.

Oroko said KMPDU was not ready to engage in name calling like some of the people who are supposed to solve their problems.

Statistics from the Kenyan health ministry indicate that at least 2,700 healthcare workers in the country have contracted COVID-19 while in the line of duty, with 13 doctors, nine clinical officers and 29 nurses succumbing to the disease.

Among those who died is a 28-year-old intern doctor, who had worked five months without pay. Dr Stephen Mogusu.

He left behind a widow and a five-month-old baby, as well as thousands of colleagues struggling to continue working with inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and no medical cover.

Speaking at young Dr Mogusu’s funeral on Sunday, KMPDU treasurer Daisy Korir said the current strike is not about their salaries, but their lives and that it was 36 days since they issued a strike notice.

KMPDU Secretary-General Mwachonda said doctors will not be happy to attend to another colleague’s funeral. ‘We are losing young doctors who have struggled to pay their school fees.’