AILING SECTOR

Health crisis worsens in Kisumu as workers keep off facilities

Patients who cannot afford treatment in private facilities now have to travel to Kakamega, Vihiga, Kericho or Siaya to get help

In Summary

• Unions representing health workers direct their members to keep away from health facilities until they are paid.

• Communication director says the county signed an agreement with the unions to have all the dues and accrued deductions for the past three months paid by October 4.

An accident survivor is attended to the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu on Friday
An accident survivor is attended to the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu on Friday
Image: MAURICE ALAL

Health services continue to worsen in Kisumu as workers stay away from hospitals over salary arrears.

Patients who cannot afford treatment in private facilities now have to travel to Kakamega, Vihiga, Kericho or Siaya to get help.

Some staff have returned to work, probably being part of the group alleged to have received their pay. In most facilities, however, the sick are in dire need of care. At Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH), only a few nurses attend to patients.

A similar picture played out at the Kisumu, Ahero and Muhoroni county hospitals, with most beds empty, an indication of lack of proper services.

Some families have taken their loved ones back home even as residents threatened to stage a demonstration to push Governor Anyang' Nyong'o to fix the crisis.

On Thursday night, travellers injured in a road accident that involved an Eldoret Express bus had to wait for about three hours to be attended to as there were no workers on standby. Thirteen people died in the Kisumu-Kericho highway crash and some 35 others suffered injuries.

Victims who were taken to Ahero County Hospital were turned away after security guards refused to open the gate. They said the health staff were on strike.

The survivors were later treated at JOOTRH. CEO Peter Okoth on Friday said they received 18 of the injured travellers. Fourteen of them were in stable condition and were to be discharged he said.

Health workers' unions have warned that their members will not resume duty until their demands are met.

A senior health provider told the Star on condition of anonymity that some workers have not been paid for three months, others two and another group one month.

He said some have received salaries. "As we speak, workers are slowly returning to work. But the health services at various facilities have yet to resume normally."

The county government failed to adhere to the return-to-work agreement it had signed with workers on September 26.

In a statement, the health workers said the county was not committed to honouring the demands. The statement was signed by unions KNUN, CUCO, KNUMLO, UKCS and KMPDU.

"As at now, there is no money in the workers' accounts. We, therefore, advise workers to stay away from their workplaces until all salaries are paid in totality,” a letter signed on October 4 read.

KNUN branch secretary Maurice Opetu on Sunday told the Star their position still stands. However, communication director of the governor's press unit Aloice Ager said the county government signed an agreement with the unions to have all the dues and accrued deductions for the past three months paid by October 4.

"This was done and all the dues were paid on Friday at exactly 11.47am. The county workers must, therefore, consult their accountants during their banks' working hours," he said.

The KMPDU urged its members to keep away from public hospitals until their demands are met, noting that they have not been paid for two months.

The union's directive issued by Nyanza chairman Lameck Omweri came just a day after health workers called off their strike following the signing of a return-to-work agreement with the county government.

In the agreement, the county government was to settle all pending salaries for July, August, and September by October 4. In a letter sent to Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o, Omweri said the payment of salaries and remittance of deductions were not negotiable. He dismissed the return-to-work agreement as an alien document.

"We were treated to yet another comical and regrettable return-to-work formula that the county government of Kisumu signed with itself on September 26. That is an alien document to KMPDU,” he said.

"We authoritatively advise KMPDU members to keep off their workplace and continue with salary parade until the county government pays in full all salary arrears."

Omweri said doctors were suffering after failing to get their salaries. The Thursday agreement was signed by county secretary Godfrey Kigochi, chief health officer Dickens Onyango and union officials.

"The employer shall also settle all pending statutory deductions by October 4 and the pending loan remission to respective financial institutions. At the same time, they will engage with their respective banks to reverse all penalties charged to staff due to delay in remittance of loan deductions," it read.

On promotion, the county government said the County Public Service Board would effectively from October 1 review individual files of names forwarded for promotion and issue letters in batches. However, it was agreed the whole process be concluded not later than December 31.

Health workers agreed that the county will hold quarterly consultative meetings with union officials to revive the implementation of the agenda to avoid future industrial disputes.

There were fears among stakeholders that if the strike continued, it could paralyse an anti-malarial vaccination programme for children. Cervical cancer vaccines for girls aged 10 is expected to begin next month.

(Edited by F'Orieny)