5 February 2019

Kenya: Agony and Pain As Nurses Strike Demanding Better Pay, Allowances

Photo: Jared Nyataya/Daily Nation
Nurses in Elgeyo-Marakwet County protest outside Governor Alex Tolgos’ office in Iten on February 05, 2019.

Mr Mumo Mutisya remembers the four hours it took him to travel by matatu from his Yatta home in Machakos to Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi.

He was taking his friend Alex to the city to donate blood for his wife Gladys, a cancer patient. She was admitted to the hospital in the first week of January.

"My wife was in pain for a while and I took her to several hospitals in Machakos. When we brought her to Mbagathi a month ago, doctors found that she had cancer," Mr Mutisya said.

CHEMOTHERAPY

He added that his wife had already had 12 sessions of chemotherapy when he asked Alex to donate blood.

Unfortunately, Mr Mutisya and his friend could not get the services they required when they arrived at the hospital yesterday, for there were no nurses.

The ward where Mr Mutisya's wife is admitted is usually a hive of activity, but the silence was loud Monday.

"The chemotherapy sessions could not proceed for there was no nurse on duty to help Alex donate blood. We had no other alternative but to look for another hospital to transfer her to," a dejected Mr Mutisya told the Nation.

When Nation journalists caught up with the three at the Mbagathi Hospital gates, they were heading to St Mary's Hospital in Lang'ata.

"I require urgent medical attention. St Mary's is the only alternative at the moment," a visibly weak Gladys told the Nation team.

Mr Mutisya, a businessman, said doctors told him his wife should have a blood transfusion before the chemotherapy session.

"I had to talk to my friend into donating blood for my wife. I don't know what will happen," he said.

Gladys is one of the tens of thousands of patients whose recovery is at risk following the strike by nurses, which began Monday.

GRIEVANCES

The strike was called by the Kenya National Union of Nurses to press for the implementation of a collective bargaining agreement signed on November 2, 2017.

Gladys' plight would have been addressed had the national and county governments averted the strike earlier.

By Sunday, when Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani appointed a conciliatory committee to address the nurses' grievances, a lot of goodwill had been lost between the parties in dispute.

The minister said the committee, chaired by Mr Haron Mwaura, would find a solution to the human resources and other challenges facing the health sector in Kenya.

He gave the team, comprising representatives from the Council of Governors, the nurses union and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, 30 days to table a report.

However, Knun secretary-general Seth Panyako played down the Labour Cabinet secretary's efforts.

"What we want is the implementation of the salary agreement and not new negotiations," Mr Panyako told journalists.

The Cabinet secretary directed the committee to seek proposals from other government agencies so that the human resource aspects in the Health Ministry are addressed "once and for all".

In Nairobi County, nurses held street demonstrations demanding allowances they were promised in the return-to-work agreement signed between their union and the Council of Governors towards the end of 2017.

COMMISSION

They said the strike would go on "since county government representatives have not been attending meetings to end the dispute".

"The conciliator gave us permission to go on strike due to the failure by the devolved government to take part in the negotiations," said Knun Nairobi branch secretary-general Ediah Muruli.

She added that the meetings were called by the conciliator, identified as F. Okello, in November last year.

The allowances in question include Sh5,000 for uniforms every year and Sh3,000 per month for nursing service.

Nurses get Sh20,000 as nursing service allowance, which was to be increased to Sh30,000 over three years from 2017.

The uniform allowance was to reach Sh10,000 every year by 2021.

Ms Muruli said these had not been paid since June 2018 as the county government waited for a go-ahead from the salaries commission.

"On November 2, 2017, nurses signed a return-to-work agreement but the county government has not honoured it," Ms Muruli said.

The city nurses said lack of promotion had left them lagging two job grades behind their counterparts in Makueni and Machakos counties "which promoted 800 nurses recently".

A number of health workers in Nairobi stayed away from their stations.

At Mbagathi Hospital, some patients were seen by doctors and given prescriptions.

Services at Kenyatta National and Mama Lucy hospitals went on normally Monday.

VACCINATION

In Taita-Taveta County, some 370 nurses joined in the strike and asked their patients to seek assistance elsewhere.

Nurses in Taita-Taveta are demanding more than Sh8 million in salary and allowance arrears.

The county government says it will pay them this week.

At Moi Referral Hospital in Voi, other medical personnel were attending to the sick at the outpatient department.

In Kwale County, nurses gave Governor Salim Mvurya's government a week to honour the 2017 return-to-work agreement.

Thousands of patients who visited public health centres and hospitals in the North Rift were stranded as nurses stayed away.

At Kapenguria Hospital in West Pokot County, patients were told to go back home.

In Elgeyo-Marakwet County, many hospitals turned patients away, with the county referral hospital in Iten being the worst hit by the strike.

Residents who spoke to the Nation expressed fears that the strike would interfere with the ongoing vaccination against hepatitis B.

The county is one of the hotspots of the disease.

The Elgeyo-Marakwet Knun branch said the region is grappling with an acute shortage of nurses. It said there are 368 nurses against the required 2,500 across the 127 hospitals.

Turkana County was not affected by the strike.

Reported by Aggrey Omboki, Anita Chepkoech, Lucy Mkanyika, Fadhili Fredrick, Wycliff Kipsang, Oscar Kakai and Sammy Lutta.

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