Kenya: Shame of Dying Doctors Amid State Neglect of Health Sector

(file photo).
23 November 2020

For Kenyan healthcare workers, the call to duty as the country's front line soldiers in the fight against Covid-19, is akin to suicide.

Each week, top medical specialists are losing the battle to the virus.

This has been long time coming, however, what with national and county governments' lackadaisical attitudes to the welfare of health workers.

For months, the medics have been agitating for a safe working environment and medical insurance.

Over the weekend, Kenya lost its twelfth specialist after Nira Pital, one of the country's top dental surgeons who specialised in orthodontics, died of Covid-19-related complications.

Her death came barely hours after that of Dr Anthony Were Omolo, a nephrologist and head of the renal unit at the Kenyatta National Hospital.

Other specialists who have died include periodontal surgeon Hudson Alumera, plastic and reconstructive surgeon Ashraf Emarah and bariatric, general, and laparoscopic surgeon Vladimir Shchukin.

Others are Hudson Inyangala, a specialist in public health, orthopaedic surgeon Daniel Alushula, paediatrician Robert Ayisi, obstetrician and gynaecologist Doreen Lugaliki and internal medicine specialist Ndambuki Mboloi.

Last Wednesday, Seme MP James Nyikal broke down during a Health Committee hearing on the plight of healthcare workers.

"I don't like this," he said, amid sobs: "You can't do that to your doctors and your health workers. It is not fair. Who said patriotism is suicide? You cannot ask a person to jump into a raging river to show his patriotism."

Indeed, the country has been demanding blood from its healthcare workers, while offering nothing in return.

And now, the sector is bleeding out.

"Healthcare workers have made huge sacrifices putting their lives and that of their families on the line to deliver services to the public," Dr Andrew Were, the president of the Kenya Medical Association, said, adding: "We are concerned that they are neither being provided with adequate PPEs nor a comprehensive insurance package to take care of them in case they fall sick or succumb to Covid-19."

So far, the country has lost 12 specialist doctors out of the 30 who have died from the disease, the latest data from Health Ministry shows.

As of yesterday, 2,352 healthcare workers had tested positive -- 1,177 male and 1,175 females.

Angered and alarmed by the rising number of deaths in the medical fraternity, the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) last week issued a strike notice that is set to expire on December 6.

They are demanding dedicated facilities for the treatment of doctors in each county, a comprehensive medical cover, a comprehensive group life insurance with benefits, payment of allowances and provision of PPEs.

For countries that have prioritised their medical personnel in the Covid-19 fight, this has been the bare minimum -- from having special wards for healthcare workers in Italy to comprehensive medical schemes in South Africa, and reserved Covid-19 beds in Rwanda and Egypt. Sadly, for Kenya, this is not the case.

The healthcare workers have had to endure poor quality working environment including PPE's, no medical cover which has seen them fund-raise for their colleagues who have been infected.

On Friday, Council of Governors Chainman Wycliffe Oparanya said that counties will ensure that they have access to quality PPE's approved by the Kenya Bureau of Standards.

He also indicated that the counties will designate well equipped health facilities for medics and their families.

Medical cover

"We are currently working on modalities to ensure that healthcare workers and their families have access to a comprehensive medical cover in case they are exposed to the virus," he said after the CoG held a special meeting.

While the governors' commitment was a welcome move, it came a bit late and lacked any implementation framework or timeframes, failing to instill any confidence that counties are prioritising the healthcare workers.

A meeting is set for today between the governors, the National Treasury and the Health Cabinet Secretary to "conclusively deliberate on the issues related to health workers insurance and their allowances."

Shameful as it may sound, this is what the healthcare workers have been agitating for over the past eight months, with the government doing its best to turn a blind eye to their plight.

It has now taken the sacrifice of tens of healthcare workers, who have paid the ultimate price, to jolt the government to act.

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