LETTER TO THE EDITOR

The story of health workers strike in Kenya isn’t new

BBI proposed the establishment of the Health Service Commission to address management challenges witnessed in the health sector

In Summary

• In a nutshell, between 2010 and 2016, there were six nationwide health workers' strikes.

• Many regional strikes were also witnessed over the same period. 

Nurses on strike in Kisumu
HEALTH: Nurses on strike in Kisumu
Image: FAITH MATETE

In December 2016, when nurses demanded, among other things, an increase in allowances, the government dismissed them.

The collective bargain agreement (CBA) between the national and county governments wasn’t signed; it follows that this important document wasn’t implemented.

The consequence of this reckless behaviour by the government was the longest health workers’ strike in Kenya’s history – lasting some 150 days. Remember this came about alongside the 100-days Doctors’ strike that was triggered by a CBA signed in 2013 but had not been implemented almost four years down the line.

In a nutshell, between 2010 and 2016, there were six nationwide health workers' strikes. Many regional strikes were also witnessed over the same period. The story of health workers strike in Kenya isn’t a new one. And the quest for the restoration of the healthcare system isn’t only old, it hasn’t been easy.

It’s something the government has been called upon to address over the years but chosen to treat lightly. With the recent strike notice by a group of health workers, including nurses, for lack of PPEs and what the union leaders have called “unreasoned allocation of allowances”, we could be staring at a grim situation.

Health workers’ strike in the face of a global pandemic could have a significant effect.

When the first case of coronavirus was reported in Egypt, western models suggested that the pandemic could cause more deaths in Africa than it would anywhere else in the world. The argument being that Africa is the “poorest” continent with most countries having weak health infrastructures. People are thus concerned: If the most industrialised countries with the best hospitals such as the US and the UK could not cut the mustard, what would happen to Africa where health financing is still a major concern?

Many argue that Africa has responded well to the pandemic; accounting for just one per cent of the total global infections. Mauritius has even come up with its own “medicine” which she has generously shared with other receptive countries in the continent.

However, because of limited testing, we can’t know exactly how many people have been infected. With inadequately funded healthcare, the worst-case scenario would spawn the biggest challenge yet. In South Africa, nurses have downed their tools. Across Africa, a growing number of cases would see health facilities stretched to the brink. It’s down to all of us to ensure we don’t get there.

Even as the government seeks to avert the health workers strike, it’s important that it looks into lasting solutions. BBI proposed the establishment of the Health Service Commission to address management challenges witnessed in the health sector. Perhaps that could be the first step towards restoring a healthcare system that discriminates against class, is inaccessible and unsustainable.

The writer is a journalism student at Multimedia University

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