Kenyan Doctors Strike; Patients Left Unattended or Turned Away

NAIROBI, Kenya — Doctors at Kenya’s public hospitals began a nationwide strike Thursday, accusing the government of failing to implement a raft of promises from a collective bargaining agreement signed in 2017 after a 100-day strike that saw people dying from lack of care.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union said they went on strike to demand comprehensive medical cover for the doctors and because the government has yet to post 1,200 medical interns.

Davji Bhimji, secretary-general of KMPDU, said 4,000 doctors took part in the strike despite a labor court order asking the union to put the strike on hold to allow talks with the government. And Dennis Miskellah, deputy secretary general of the union, said they would disregard the court order the same way the government had disregarded three court orders to increase basic pay for doctors and reinstate suspended doctors.

Miskellah said medical interns make up 27% of the workforce in Kenya’s public hospitals, and their absence means more sick people are being turned away from hospitals. Some doctors, however, have remained on duty to ensure patients in the intensive care units don’t die.

In an interview with broadcaster Citizen TV, Miskellah said doctors were committing suicide out of work-related frustration, while others have had to fund-raise to get treated for sickness due to a lack of comprehensive health coverage.

The impact of the strike was felt across the country with many patients left unattended or being turned away from hospitals across the East African nation.

Pauline Wanjiru said she brought her 12-year-old son for treatment on his broken leg, which had started to produce a smell, but she was turned away from a hospital in Kakamega county in western Kenya.

In 2017, doctors at Kenya’s public hospitals held a 100-day strike — the longest ever held in the country — to demand better wages and for the government to restore the country’s dilapidated public-health facilities. They also demanded continuous training of and hiring of doctors to address a severe shortage of health professionals.

At the time, public doctors, who train for six years in university, earned a basic salary of $400 to $850 a month, similar to some police officers who train for just six months.

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