Sick abandoned in crippling Kenyan doctors' strike

Unions in Kenya are demanding a 300-percent pay rise for doctors and 25- to 40-percent pay rise for nurses that they say was agreed upon in a 2013 collective bargaining agreement (AFP Photo/Boniface Mwangi)
Fran Blandy

Nairobi (AFP) - Sick Kenyans were turned away from hospitals and patients left stranded in their wards as a crippling strike by doctors and nurses demanding pay rises entered a second day Tuesday.

Several patients have died as a result of lack of care in public hospitals, many of which are completely unstaffed. Kenyans have been directed to private clinics that are unaffordable to the majority of the population.

"We have had a lot of patients leaving our facility because we have no services offered due to the ongoing strike," said David Mukabi, the superintendent in charge of Busia hospital in western Kenya.

He said a 24-year-old patient had died on Monday night as a result of the walk-out.

Meanwhile the deaths of two women at the Port Victoria Hospital in western Budalangi on Monday and three patients in Mombasa on Tuesday, were attributed to the strike.

"The strike is to blame because the patient who is my sister was in a good condition and was improving," said Steven Mwaura, whose sister died of meningitis.

Local media reported instances of patients who had suffered burns or were in labour being left stranded in front of hospitals.

At one hospital in western Kenya a security guard had to help a woman give birth, while in another an orphaned child was left alone in an empty ward with no parents to organise her transfer, The Standard daily reported.

On Monday more than 100 patients escaped from Kenya's only psychiatric hospital in the capital Nairobi as the strike started, police commander Japheth Koome told AFP.

- 'Billions are shamelessly stolen' -

Unions are demanding a 300-percent pay rise for doctors and 25- to 40-percent pay rise for nurses that they say was agreed in a 2013 collective bargaining agreement, but has yet to be implemented.

A statement on Tuesday said the government "deeply regrets" the strike and "deeply values" Kenya's medical workers.

However, Ouma Oluga, secretary general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists' Union (KMPPDU), said government officials did not show up to a meeting with striking workers at the health ministry on Tuesday afternoon.

"The government of Kenya will either have to pay doctors or will have none of them," Oluga said.

Poor salaries and working conditions have led to an exodus of Kenyan doctors to other African countries and further afield, prompting the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) to warn of "catastrophe" in the health sector in 2014.

According to COTU, Kenya has roughly 3,300 doctors in public health centres for a population of some 40 million.

"With a starting salary of about 40,000 shillings ($400, 365 euros) doctors are among the poorest paid public workers, yet they offer a critical service," said an editorial in the Daily Nation.

"It is appalling that Kenya cannot pay its doctors a decent salary, while billions are shamelessly stolen from the public coffers."

Many Kenyans took to social media to express their support for the strike, pointing to scandals in the corruption-plagued country in which millions of dollars have been embezzled or disappeared, while doctors battle to secure wage increases.

"We continue to appeal to the health workers to resume duty as we continue with the negotiations," said health minister Cleopa Mailu.