December 18th 2017

Society / Health & Science

Govt, doctors should deal to end grotesque paralysis in health sector

I am reliably told that the outspoken COTU secretary general, Mr Francis Atwoli has since asked the president to take charge of the talks, but the writings on the wall suggests that maybe his (Mr Francis') pleas fell on deaf ears.

By Athanas Kipchumbaakipchumba@kenyafreepress.comThursday, 29 Dec 2016 17:00 EAT

In sharp contrast with Jubilee's pre-election pledge for improved healthcare system, the public health sector is reeling under avoidable burden of crisis following the medics' strike that began on December 5. The grotesque paralysis in the public hospitals has seen more than twenty patients succumb to treatable diseases. Surely speaking, this is disturbing to the nth degree!

What is even more perplexing and fascinating in equal dimension is the manner in which our self-dealing political elites across the political spectrum are casually trivialising this issue. To them, there's no such thing as “health crisis”, so long as their political lifelines are not in jeopardy. In fact, most of them are deeply immersed in polarising politics as poor Kenyans desperately seeking medical treatment writhe in excruciating pains at public hospitals. I am reliably told that the outspoken COTU secretary general, Mr Francis Atwoli has since asked the president to take charge of the talks, but the writings on the wall suggests that maybe his (Mr Francis') pleas fell on deaf ears.

Or perhaps the president is busy doing what he thinks is more important than the lives of Kenyans groaning in doctor-free public health facilities. We've seen him traversing various regions in the guise of launching 'development projects' when his body language tells hook, line and sinker different narrative. Without circumlocution, the Jubilee supremo is busy campaigning for himself.

Well, let me examine and dispassionately discuss this mind-nibbling issue of doctors' strike. It is true that doctors, just like other civil servants are facing raft of  challenges ranging from undesirable working conditions, poor remunerations to thoroughly exhausting long working hours. Nonetheless, I will only concentrate on the medics' plight for now. According to one of the medical association functionaries, Kenya churns out 600 qualified doctors every year, but many don't get employed by the counties. Quite unsettling state of affairs in the critical health sector.

In addition to this, the secretary general of KMPPDU, Dr Ouma Oluga, in the recent past said that following a survey conducted by the union, it was found that Kenya needs 83,000 doctors to meet World Health Organisation standards and fully address the challenges confronting the sector. Yet, the vocal KMPPDU official said the sector loses 25 doctors monthly. This, in my view, paints a grim picture of our public health sector. Of course, it's bad news for many Kenyan have-nots who pin their hopes for improved and pocket-friendly healthcare system on the government's promise for “heavens on earth”, especially in the sector in question. These high hopes, for many ordinary people, have remained a mirage!

The doctor to patient ratio in our country today stands at 1:17000,according to KMPPDU study. This is against W.H.O's ratio of 1:1000. Moreover, the survey found that Kenya has 3,956 medics in public sector, but that number slumps by the month as more doctors resign. This certainly is one of the causes that motivates doctors' spirited quest for employment of more medics to the public sector, so as to at least reduce the workload. This worrying ratio needs to be addressed without the usual government functionaries' sickening corner-cutting. The Jubilee administration should wake up from its deep slumber and smell the coffee. The victims of this seemingly never-ending doctors' strike are both Jubilee and CORD supporters.

If President Uhuru Kenyatta thinks failure to immediately address the doctors' grievances isn't politically parlous and costly, then he would rather prepare for tough things to come. He will have to pay for the princely political price of his miscalculations through his nose! He's the only person, at the current stage, to unlock deadlock between the medics and the government. The president must know that it's more serious to lose precious lives through negligence than losing a political contest. Empathising with and pitying those Kenyans languishing in hospital beds with no doctor in sight, he really must. 

Medics want the government to honour a CBA giving them 300 percent pay hike and other allowances. Under this CBA, the lowest doctor in job group L would pocket a monthly salary and allowance from between Sh325,730 and Sh342770 up from between Sh127,910 and Sh149,880. The highest paid doctor would earn between Sh852,180 and Sh946,000 monthly in salary and allowances up from Sh328,060 and Sh538,980.

Besides this, the CBA further provides that all doctors shall work 40 hours every week, and any extra hour shall be compensated. The CBA in question was signed by the principal secretary of health and officials of the AG chambers in 2013. These somewhat 'mouth-popping' demands by medics sounds unrealistic. They are far-fetched, for some.

Whether these demands fly in the face our economic situation currently or not, doesn't trouble me. The question that has gnawed my mind since the commencement of the strike is; why did the government's representative sign the CBA when they knew, at the back of their minds, that implementing it[perhaps fully] would be akin to inserting a round pole into a square hole? In my opinion, the government has no option but honour what it committed itself to execute.

After all, no one coerced and blackmailed them into appending their signatures on the document. They must be reminded of the popular maxim that goes, 'as you make your bed so you must lie on it'. Though the scale of salary increment, in my considered view, could be subject to negotiation, what drives me up the wall is the fact the government's negotiating team are going to the bargaining table with ulterior motives. They do things in bad faith. Which has emboldened each side to harden their stance thus, compounding the suffering patients' deteriorating health statuses. It actually demoralises one to the core.

Expressing their views on the current salary impasse pitting doctors against the Kenyan government, the IPSOS survey has shown that 51 percent of Kenyans want medics to be paid their full salary increase, without much ado. The study further depicts 56 percent of CORD supporters says they deserve the pay hike; whereas 45 percent of Jubilee backers recommend that doctors deserve the increment. What this generally means is that significant percentage of Kenyans want the powers-that-be to pay doctors their dues. The perception among most Kenyans out there is that the government is paying lip service to this public health sector crisis.

Mind you that sickness recognises no barriers of ones political affiliation or orientation. It cuts across “the board”. Looking at this nagging issue through political lenses, Jubilee administration should comprehend that all Kenyans are directly or the opposite, affected in one way or the other, by this doctors' strike. Even those working in private hospitals, where the well-to-do go for medication, have joined their colleagues in solidarity, though once in a week every Thursday! Meaning the crisis has reached crescendo.

Kenyan voters are a dismayed lot. They are, I am certain, down in the dumps. That there are clear indicators suggesting no end in sight to the stalemate is a bitter pill to swallow. Who will really save the clap-ham man in the omnibus, or if you like wanjiku? Only The Most High knows.

We are demonstrably suffering, largely due to irresponsibilities and recklessness of those whom, we democratically or the converse, put in the positions of trust. Just imagine the scale of the scandal that rocked our health ministry recently. Looting more than a whopping 5 billion shillings, and hoping to convince a 'lowly'-paid, but highly-skilled,hard working doctor that the ministry dearths money to pay them, honestly speaking, doesn't add up.

These are some of the things that make doctors fly off the handle, easily. The government has no cogent reason to tell us that it has no money to pay doctors, when the rate at which the tax-papers' money is massively lost through highly designed, elaborate corruption network is frighteningly high! It appears like the ruling coalition is encouraging civil servants to have their fingers in the till.

This is pathetic. If left without control, corruption will soon cripple every vital sector of our economy, and by extension grease the rotating wheels of moral decadence in our society. I think healthcare should be included as one of the campaign issues, come the next election slated for August,2017.

We can't bury our heads in the sand as our public sector is being mismanaged by morally insolvent bureaucrats and apathetic administration that is Jubilee, and expect things to change for better. Kenyans across the political divide must stand up and reprimand the UhuRuto administration for sitting on the fence as our public health sector goes to the dogs. Our brothers and sisters who are in hospital, may God grant them quick recoveries, deserves medication just like anyone else: be it politicians, business people or even journalists. This exhibits how heartless our leaders are. They don't care about the impoverished lot, at all. Kenyans need to change things dramatically as we head to the ballot soon. We have to re-design our own desirable destiny. Because our leaders have manifestly lead us down the garden path.

Least but not last, I remind Kenyans that it is due to Jubilee's poor governance that our public health sector is going downhill. Am a little bit puzzled by the don't-care attitudes of our political elites. We really need change in our country, if we must have proper governance and management of public resources! Our current crop of leaders are a big let-down.

However, leaders in the negotiation table must rise above their pointless narcissistic attitudes, political intrigues, supremacy shows and conclusively address the doctors and patients' plights without dithering. The sooner they strike a deal, the better.

In conclusion, the government should desist from intimidating and harassing medics because that won't be the panacea to the bone of contention, the impasse. As a concerned and patriotic Kenyan, whose heart bleeds for the sick compatriots, I exhort the Jubilee administration to spare us, at least for awhile, the interminable political rhetoric and constant demagoguery, and comprehensively address the medics' issues. By so doing, the hideous state of affairs in our public health sector will be reversed.

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May I take this golden chance to wish all of you, my avid and esteemed readers a remarkably exhilarating happy new year 2017.

Kipchumba is a staff writer/columnist at the Kenya Free Press

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