Kenya: Doctors call off strike, nurses continue picketing

Health Watch

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Doctors, pharmacists and dentists in Kenya called off a three-day strike over inadequate personal protective equipment and insurance Thursday after the government acquiesced to their most immediate demands.

However, most other health workers remained on strike as nurses and clinicians vowed to stay off the job until their different set of demands is met.

Two people reportedly died after they could not get anyone to attend to them at government hospitals in Mombasa and Nairobi, family members said.

An agreement signed Thursday by Kenyan Minister for Health Mutahi Kagwe and representatives of the the Kenya Medical Practitioner Pharmacists and Dentists Union calls for the government to fast-track comprehensive insurance coverage for doctors.

The government also said it it will provide adequate quality personal protective equipment to all 7,200 doctors represented by the union.

Doctors had said that doing their jobs had become “suicidal” after 14 physicians with COVID-19 who could not afford the treatment they were giving to patients subsequently died..

The national insurer had said it could not cover Kenyans during treatment for COVID-19.

Kenya has had a total 95,195 confirmed virus cases and 1,648 deaths since the country’s first case was reported in mid-March

More than 36,000 clinicians and nurses went on strike 18 days ago, and talks to get them back to work collapsed Monday. Austine Oduor Otieno, deputy secretary general of the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers, said the government pulled out of the talks while they were making progress.

The nurses and clinicians want the government to increase their “risk allowance” which currently stands at around $27 while doctors get $211.

The impact of nurses and clinical officers not working can be felt across the country since they provide most patient care except in cases requirement specialized treatment, Otieno said.

The family of a 26-year-old university student said he died in Mombasa after being discharged from Coast General Hospital due to the strike. According to a relative, Levi Mila was scheduled to undergo surgery to remove a growth in his lungs before he was sent home.

“We were at the ward but we were discharged due to the strike,” the student’s mother, Esther Juma, said.

Wycliffe Mzee, 50, died of pneumonia after waiting for hours to be treated at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi despite needing emergency care, according to his family..

His brother, Francis Muti, 42, said that because doctors were on strike, they first took Mzee to a private hospital after he collapsed.

“But the bill became too high, and we ended up going to Kenyatta National Hospital, but there was a long queue and by the time they gave him oxygen, he was dead,” Muti said.

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