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November 20, 2018

Medics’ demands go beyond pay, work conditions

A doctor acts outside Afya House during a demonstration as the doctors started a country wide strike yesterday./MONICAH MWANGI
A doctor acts outside Afya House during a demonstration as the doctors started a country wide strike yesterday./MONICAH MWANGI

Before I finished this column, I read a young doctor’s account of how she and her colleagues lost a woman whose unborn baby had died. Among many other challenges, they had no blood to give her, and no ambulance to transfer her, so she bled to death overnight. In 2017, good people – not 1917. And the doctor who could not help her went home, had a shower, and went back to work to complete what was a 48-hour shift.

What Kenya’s striking doctors are asking for goes way beyond just salaries and working conditions, and aims to create a better medical environment for patients, better infrastructure, better research.

And while Kenyans without the means to afford private medical services suffer and die, the government is trying to sack and sue doctors, and import ‘cheaper’ and, presumably, less recalcitrant ones from India and Cuba. And I have questions, many questions: Wouldn’t fly-in doctors (assuming any were willing to accept Kenyan medical work conditions and salaries) need work permits, and new certifications, and wouldn’t their relocation cost a bomb and take time – both resources better spent in trying to figure out, jointly and co-operatively, a solution with the doctors already in its employment?

(There is also the irony that many private sector companies in other industries struggle with the restrictive work permit practices – but bring in a bunch of strike busting doctors, or Chinese manual labourers, and karibu?).

How is the government able to take its doctors to court, but is seemingly unable to do anything about the large-scale theft at the Health ministry? Hands tied again.

There are quite a few people who come to Kenya for private medical services – by far not as many as those who travel to India, but medical tourism is clearly a significant opportunity for Kenya’s economic diversification. The doctor strike isn’t exactly good PR, even if it only affects the public sector.

But what infuriates me most of all is that our elected representatives seem to lack the motivation to get meaningfully involved in this. Constituents? Now what are those? We have a whole governor who will have himself airlifted (airlifted!!) to the capital, and then travels to South Africa, to have that little bruise on his face looked into.

We have a whole senator who will post about his daughter’s bashed toe on social media. Spare me with this Animal Farm and get to work. Lean on your government to open a constructive dialogue instead of ignoring the crisis or locking people up.

The writer is an independent country risk analyst

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