Why have Kenya’s doctors been on strike for three months?

Doctors are protesting the lack of basic facilities in public hospitals along with low basic salaries. With 2,500 public health institutions affected, the strike is killing patients.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

The doctors' protest has made life for patients miserable in the Kenya where physicians are already in short supply, leaving many patients untreated. (Reuters)

Four years ago the Kenyan government agreed to increase health professionals' salaries by 300 percent. This never happened, and now doctors in state hospitals across the country have walked off the job.

In the deal between the country's biggest public sector union and the government, pay for entry level doctors would increase from $346 to $1,038, while salaries for the most experienced doctors would rise from $1,400 to $4,300.

President Uhuru Kenyatta's government has asked doctors to return to their posts but the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) who represent the striking workers say a deal is a deal.

Is this just about salaries?


"The thing people don't realise is ... we are fighting for more than just salaries," said 25-year-old striking intern, Waliaulato .

Poor salaries and working conditions have pushed Kenyan doctors to leave the public sector or go to other countries where there are better opportunities.

Under the 2013 wage agreement, doctors were promised training, a research fund, proper equipment and more support staff.  Work hours were also to be capped at 40 hours a week and overtime offered for additional work.

What are the conditions like?

It is so bad that doctors have been working without basic drugs, such as penicillin.

Under the hashtag #MyBadDoctorExperience, medics are talking about being forced to work without drugs, gloves or electricity and with severe staff shortages that have put hospitals on the verge of collapse.

One doctor who gave only his first name, Anthony, told AFP that once he was in the middle of a Caesarean section birth when the lights went out. Surgeons had to use a Nokia phone's flashlight as the hospital's only torch had run out of batteries.

The health sector union said Kenya has one doctor to 17,000 patients, while the World Health Organization’s recommendation is one to 1,000.

Patients living in rural areas cannot afford to go to private hospitals, forcing them to borrow large amounts of money. (Reuters)

How are patients coping?

Not well.

Many patients have been left untreated and there have been several deaths. The number of patients who have since died is unclear, with reports ranging from 40 to over 300.

People have even been turned away from some hospitals and sent to others.

Those who are desperate are being forced to borrow large amounts of money so they can seek treatment at the nation's costly private hospitals.

Private hospitals in Kenya, rated as some of Africa's finest facilities, are also beginning to feel the pressure of more patients.

What is the government doing?

President Kenyatta's government has offered to increase the wages by 40 percent, but unions have rejected this.

The raise would cost the country an additional $38 million a year and is "a responsible offer in the context of its obligations to properly manage the country's finances," the government said. It added that fulfilling the demand of the doctors will cost as much as the entire national budget.

But unions are not convinced and argue that if the government reduces corruption, there will be more money for healthcare in the poor east African country. About $1 billion went missing in the country's Eurobond corruption scandal last year.


TRTWorld and agencies