April 28th 2017

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Indian media reports put Uhuru on tight spot as doctors strike persists

"The decision to skirt any talks on sending Indian doctors to stave off the growing medical crisis in Kenya reflects a delicate balancing act New Delhi is attempting: deepening its footprint in Africa and strengthening ties with governments without antagonising local populations."

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comFriday, 13 Jan 2017 16:06 EAT

President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the media alongside his host during the trip. (Photo: Courtesy/The President's Facebook page).

The government is denying reports in the Indian media that the Asian country has rejected Kenya's request for temporary doctors to fill the gap in healthcare service provision during this time of the biting doctors' strike. President Uhuru Kenyatta is reported to have made the request to India's prime minister Narendra Modi during their meeting on Wednesday in New Delhi, where the president was on a two-day state visit.

According to the reports in the Indian media, the prime minister rejected the request, which apparently was one of the reasons for the president's journey to India. "Kenya...had indicated a desire to discuss the proposal during Kenyatta's visit", according to concerned Indian officials who briefed The Telegraph newspaper.

Mr Modi is reported to have informed the president that his government would "encourage the country's healthcare chains to invest in Kenya", but he avoided the discussion on the request for doctors. The report described the local doctors' strike as having precipated the "gravest healthcare crisis" in Kenya, but said "India steered clear of the proposal, at least for now, senior officials said, amid criticism from Kenyan doctors that makes it clear they will not welcome foreigners taking their jobs."

Mr Modi's commitment to to "encourage" was made in recognition of the fact that Kenya sends over 10,000 patients to India each year, and depends on Indian-made generic anti-retroviral drugs. "The decision to skirt any talks on sending Indian doctors to stave off the growing medical crisis in Kenya reflects a delicate balancing act New Delhi is attempting: deepening its footprint in Africa and strengthening ties with governments without antagonising local populations."

However, the government here denies that any discussion on doctors took place. Following the Standard's front-page report on the developments in India, the cabinet secretary for health, Cleopa Mailu, today issued a statement that President Kenyatta had not raised the issue of doctors with his hosts in India. "We must be responsible in our reporting. That is not the position. The President did not go to India to negotiate over the whole issue. Only I can begin the process," the CS said.

The cabinet secretary's statement sparked vibrant debate on social media platforms, with many respondents expressing cynicism about his 'clarification'. Kenyans were more inclined to believe the Indian press than their cabinet secretary. The doctors' union was yet to respond to the developments, and the Kenya Free Press could not reach their officials this afternoon.

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