Medical interns
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Give jobs to medical interns now

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Medical interns camp outside Afya House, the Ministry of Health headquarters, in Nairobi on February 12.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

The Cabinet Secretary for health is on record suggesting in a threatening way to the striking doctors, that ‘I have 50 interns willing to work without any stipend just to get a licence’.

That statement is in breach of so many rights of the purported interns. Briefly, it amounts to slave labour. International law on slave labour defines it as ‘all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily’.

The CS may have her list of interns, but they will be accepting the work in the climate of fear and intimidation she has created around the issue.

The medical graduates are in fact doctors in waiting and the word intern is diluting the work they have put in college for the years spent studying.

Denying them the chance to progress and acquire their practising certificates is limiting their chances of work, earning a living, and contributing to society. Frustrating the medical interns by denying them the chance to work on flimsy grounds is sheer abuse of power.

I have not seen any convincing reason not to employ the doctors. For a government that spends huge amounts of money on ballooning the wage bill for political class, this sounds disingenuous.

Too much effort is being put into employing Chief Administrative Secretaries (CASs). This is another class of politicians just being employed for their loyalty and nothing else. Politicians cannot save lives. Politicians will need doctors, too.

It is therefore important to prioritise the growth of the medical sector to benefit all. If Kenya is indeed the largest economy in East Africa, I would imagine they would be in a better position financially to meet its commitment to the patients. Otherwise, where does the money go if not into the health sector?

What the government fails to consider is the fact that it has a legal duty of care to the patients. Hence, it is important to make sure that there are enough doctors and nurses in hospitals to treat them.

As things are, many of our hospitals are still under-staffed while we have many doctors and nurses waiting for employment. Asking them to find jobs abroad is the most irresponsible statement that keeps coming from the government that is expected to ensure the country has sufficient doctors and nurses before sending them abroad.

The brain drain will have severe impact on our hospitals and progress of the health sector. Furthermore, the failure to employ sufficient doctors and nurses has the potential of increasing risk of harm to patients. Few doctors and nurses looking after a high population of patients has the potential of leading to medical negligence.

Given the way the government is handling the medical sector with under-staffing and under-funding, this now should not only be blamed on the medics. The government has blood in its hands too by failing the patients.

Interns tend to be looked at with contempt in many sectors. It has also become a way of employers getting cheap labour. This is not a problem just for Kenya, but it happens in many countries.

Perceiving medical interns with the same prism as all other interns is missing the mark. This is a group that are at the first rung of medical profession. They need and deserve to be on the hospital floors to hone their skills as they go up the medical profession.

Failure to employ medical interns will starve the medical sector in future of experienced medical professionals that the country needs. They are essentially one leg of the African three-legged stool that can keep the medical sector stable.

The government has been keen on rebuilding the economy. There is no better place to start than investment in the health sector.

More funding will enable hospitals recruit more medical personnel to treat the nation. Health is key to economic growth. Poor investment in health continues to lead to deaths from preventable diseases in Kenya. We still rely on donors to save the poor from Malaria, HIV and even Covid-19. When will the country pick up the tab itself?

Human capital

The growth of human capital is dependent on better medical health. It does defy logic as to why Kenya keeps frustrating its medical sector with poor funding and corruption, while at the same time expecting higher economic growth from the very people they fail to support.

It is important to take the health of the nation seriously. It should never by a political tool to be used for elections or allowed to be a lottery to only benefit those on the right side of the political divide. Kenya is its own worst enemy when it comes to economic growth. Self-sabotage is evident in the failure of many sectors including the health sector. Sober minds are needed to change this mindset not stooges.

- Ms Guyo is a legal researcher, [email protected]. @kdiguyo