Kenya: Homa Bay Health Workers' Strike Enters Second Day

The public health sector in Homa Bay is in shambles after medics downed their tools Monday over unpaid salaries.

The health workers are also protesting poor working conditions citing insufficient supply of personal protective equipment among others.

Tuesday, a mass exodus of patients was witnessed at the county referral hospital and other sub county hospitals.

Along the corridors of the county referral hospital, Nation met Gabriel Onderi, who was recently transferred to Homa Bay County for further treatment from a health facility in Kisii.

Onderi was scheduled to have an x-ray on Monday, but no one attended to him.

"I am also supposed to be on dialysis. It seems the treatment will have to wait until when the doctors resume their duties," he said as he moved around the corridors on a wheelchair.

Although the health workers had issued notice of the strike weeks earlier, the medics' industrial action coincidentally kicked off just hours after the death of their colleague in the neighbouring Kisii County where she was admitted.

It was alleged that nurse Marriane Awuor, 32, who was based at the Rachuonyo Sub-county Hospital was transferred to Kisii because there were no specialists to attend to her in Homa Bay, claims that the county health department has refuted.

The outpatient department at the Homa Bay Teaching and Referral Hospital turned empty shortly after the strike started.

Medical staff could be seen around the hospital grounds talking in small groups.

"We will only attend to patients after we are paid and our bank accounts reflect that money has been deposited," said the county Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentist Union (KMPDU) liaison officer Amos Dulo.

Visitors to the facility were questioned at the gate by security guards and patients were advised to seek medical attention elsewhere.

Union officials representing the various cadres of doctors, nurses, clinical officers, laboratory technicians, dentists, nutritionists and pharmacists instructed their members not to attend to any patient until their grievances are addressed.

The strike has affected all levels of service, including Covid-19 isolation facilities.

At the paediatric unit where mothers who took their children for immunisation and other child-care services were redirected to private health facilities.

Among them were Ms Dina Awuma and Ms Judith Ouma who had brought their babies for immunisation. They waited for more than an hour without being attended to.

"I am only seeing nurses walking along the corridors without attending to us. It is unfortunate that we have to go through all these difficulties," Ms Auma said.

The mother expressed concern that her child could contract diseases that can easily be prevented through immunisation.

Around the hospital premises, security guards kept watch of the activities within the facility to ensure safety.

They want salaries for June and July and better working environments as they face the deadly virus.

They also want the county to cushion them from suffering through timely payment of statutory deductions to the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and provision of enough personal protective equipment (PPEs).

Following a declaration by their union leaders, the medical workers from all public hospitals and Covid-19 isolation centres announced that they were withdrawing their services.

The health workers including doctors, nurses, clinical officers, laboratory technicians, pharmacists and dentists vowed that they will not go back to work until Homa Bay addresses their grievances.

Union officials told their members not to report to work and advise patients to seek services from private health facilities. Nurses and doctors stationed at isolation centres were instructed to go home.

Kevin Osuri, Nyanza chair of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU), said the strike in Homa Bay is legal.

Dr Osuri claimed the county has never fulfilled its promise of timely salary payments for the past nine months.

"We are asking the national government to transfer health functions from the county and manage its critical affairs. We have abandoned our duties because we have been abandoned by our employer,"he said.

He also called on the Ethics and Anti-Corruption (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to investigate the salary delays as the allocation was approved in the last financial year's budget.

"The government may claim the stalemate at the Senate is the reason why salaries are delayed but all other counties in the region have paid salaries," Dr Osuri said.

Doctors in the county said they will not negotiate with the government on financial matters.

"We are not talking with the county government anymore. We will only check our bank accounts to see if our salaries have been deposited," said the county's KMPDU Liaison Officer Amos Dulo.

Kenya Union of Clinical Officer (KUCO) Branch Executive Secretary Philip Mbom and Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) County Deputy Secretary Omondi Nyonje said the county has not offered an explanation for the salary delays.

Mr Nyonje said most health workers cannot be served in hospitals because their statutory deductions are not remitted in time.

"We are calling for total paralysis until we get our salaries. We are suffering," he said.

County Health executive Richard Muga said the delays were due to the late disbursement of funds from the national government to the county.

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