Kenyan government threatens to halt salaries of striking doctors

Nairobi, Kenya — The Kenyan government is threatening to withhold the salaries and union remittances of striking doctors after failing to reach an agreement with doctors’ union. 

“We will be asking our counsel to appeal to the court to review the orders that had been issued initially so that we are allowed to take the necessary action to ensure that Kenyans continue to enjoy health care services,” said Susan Nakhumicha, Kenya’s is cabinet secretary for health, after three days of negotiations.

Led by the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union, the doctors went on strike on March 15 to demand a commitment from the government to fulfill collective bargaining agreements signed in 2017. The work stoppage has paralyzed medical services in public hospitals across the country.

The government said it has addressed all issues raised by the medics — except for the salary of intern doctors — which union officials say is the deal breaker. 

“We are not at any point going to support exploitation of workers, we are not at any point going to support wage-slavery,” said Davji Atellah, the secretary-general of KMPDU. “Because we know that our vulnerable members, the intern doctors, once they are touched, once they are exploited, the next step would be the doctors working in the hospital; the next step will be the consultants. If you violate a document that is legal, like collective bargaining agreement, the part of doctor interns, which part of it is safe?” 

Lucianne Odiero, a final year medical student at the University of Nairobi, said the government’s move to reduce intern doctors’ salary is demoralizing. 

“The 70,000 shillings does not reflect the significant investment and research that interns have put in in their training and practice,” said Odiero. “And that just goes to show that the government does not really value and does not prioritize health care in the country.” 

Seventy thousand shillings equals about $520 per month. 

The ongoing strike has severely disrupted health services in public hospitals. The situation has been compounded by a strike by clinical and laboratory workers.

The strikes haver left patients such as Conceptor Oginga in Nakuru County struggling to access care from expensive private hospitals, leading to worsening chronic illnesses and even death. 

“The doctors’ strike is really bad because it has really affected a lot of people, especially people who are not able to support themselves financially,” said Oginga. “Like currently I’m sick and I’m unable to go to the hospital…the only thing I have managed to do is buy medicine over the counter.” 

Oginga said her friend lost a baby during birth because of the walkout. She appealed to the government to end the stalemate. 

“My message to the government is to just try to have a dialogue with the doctors so that they can have a common ground and they can go back to doing their job so that not so many people will be suffering the way they are suffering right now,” she said. 

Kenya’s health sector, which medical experts say is underfunded and understaffed, has seen a number of strikes over the years. A previous walkout in 2017 lasted 100 days. 

Patients such as Oginga said they hope a lasting solution is found soon. 

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