THE rift between government and doctors deepened yesterday after an announcement that 2,000 positions will be advertised to fill the gap left by the striking workforce. There is already a shortage of health workers countrywide.
An estimated 87 percent of Kenyans who rely on public health facilities have been hard hit by the industrial action that has reduced services.
In a press conference yesterday, Medical Services minister Anyang' Nyong'o insisted that medical services were ongoing despite the shortfall of doctors. He said that consultants were not party to the strike. He said that his ministry will from today advertise 2,000 positions; 1,000 medical doctors and another 1,000 clinical officers to be deployed in public hospitals.
"Out of 3,000 interns, pharmacists and dentists in our health facilities, 2000 are on duty and salaries of 1,000 who have not reported back have been stopped," Nyong'o said. The minister later in the afternoon toured Mbagathi District Hospital to assess the operations. In a quick rejoinder, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union Secretary general, Were Onyino, said that all union members were on strike.
"Our strike will continue until the time the minister will come and sit down and address our demands," Onyino said. Kenya has 4,000 doctors to oversee the health needs of 40 million Kenyans at a ratio of 17:100,000, well below World Health Organisation recommended level. Nyong'o has said he is willing to meet the doctors "under the auspices of the Industrial Court" but KMPDU insists that it cannot access the minister.
The minister said that the government "will have no option but to ask for contempt of court" if KMPDU does not halt the strike which has been declared illegal. KMPDU claims that the strike was legitimised when matter was thrown out of court earlier this week after government did not appear for the second hearing. The two sides have failed to agree on a return-to-work formula that ended a similar strike in December 2011.
The doctors want trainee doctors, or registrars, on private sponsorship to be paid a monthly stipend of sh92,000 but government says that it is not in the budget. "The ministry has stated clearly that it has no budget to pay self-sponsored registrars, otherwise all demands have been met and relevant documents compiled in the Industrial Court," Nyong'o said. The Kenya Medical Association has reportedly facilitated three informal meetings between the doctors and the Kenyatta National Hospital management without bearing any fruit.