The demand by health workers in Kenya must be appraised

In twenty thirteen few months after being elected the fourth President of Kenya, Uhuru Muigai Kanyatta signed the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which today has come to be a major reason for the strike which has crippled Public Health facilities. Kenya is under a nationwide strike
championed by public sector doctors and nurses. This has also left many patients with no medical attention. Of interest is how negotiations seems to have staled with leaders of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) insisting that the strike must continue. Samuel
Oroko, KMPDU Secretary General insists that they are tired of dialogue and diplomacy by government.

In his recent response president Uhuru Kanyatta said “For the last two weeks, the governors and the unions have been engaging. Why should we have lost over 14 close to 20 people already? Good faith requires that we do not put the lives of our fellow Kenyans at risk; let us not allow innocent
Kenyans to suffer,”. This, in his response advances a question of a moral responsibility given the type of service health workers provide. It also reminds leaders of KMPU that negotiations must continue in good faith. The deaths are unfortunate and should not have become apparent.

But what does the collective agreement which president Uhuru agreed to compromise of? In the main it speaks to salary increase over a period of time. It stipulates that doctors must only work for forty hours a week or be paid overtime. That government would employ an additional one thousand
two hundred doctors yearly. Promised to fill vacant posts and improve the working conditions in state hospitals and clinics. This surely are reasonable demands, of worry is why the government of the day has failed to live up to this promise. Worse after signing an agreement.

What Kenya is facing is not new, in most African countries this problem has remained and African leaders seem to have no proper plans to improve our public health institutions. In Malawi and South Africa Public Health institutions hugely rely on foreign doctors with the production of local
doctors slow and more friendly to the elite. The South African minister of health, Dr Motsoaledi recently had to re-emphasize the need for community service by health workers especially pharmacist. This was after the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa said that if  government couldn’t afford to offer pharmacists community service posts‚ then it had no legal or moral basis to enforce community service and it should end the practice. These utterance by the Society was after seventy five pharmacists experienced clutches over placement in public hospitals. The notion conceded by the minister is that health workers must be patriotic because without enforced community service Public Health Institutions would collapse. Community service must be compulsory beyond health workers and the minister remains correct. The clutches in placement are in no way reason enough to scarp compulsory community service.

When the Kenyan government agreed to a one thousand two hundred doctors production a year, was this in line with their strategic plans as a country or they had relied on importing of doctors from countries like China and Cuba? This we must ask because for Africa to be able to respond to the needs of its children, we must collectively produce more doctors, more specialists and improve our public health institutions. Are there plans in line to build more health universities? A responsibility of every African country is to improve the living conditions of its citizen. Effective and efficient public health institutions are part and parcel of that better life. African health problems needs African solutions and its own knowledge production. We hope the people of Kenya will find each other, we hope they will continue to negotiate and find a lasting solution.

Rhulani Thembi Siweya is a the founder of Africa Unmasked and an NEC member of the ANC Youth League. She writes in her personal capacity.


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