What you need to know:
- They are still agitating for an insurance scheme that would help them bear the long hours with a semblance of fortitude.
- They just want to be paid allowances because of the extraordinary hours they keep and the risks they take in the line of duty
The restlessness among our healthcare workers is quite understandable. They are dying of Covid-19 in unconscionable numbers and something has to be done urgently to secure them and their loved ones.
We really don’t have any option on the matter. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and our healthcare workers are among the most vulnerable, considering that they are daily exposed to the virus in their efforts to contain its devastation and save lives.
To make matters worse, they feel the Ministry of Health honchos have not done enough to protect them from the virus or offer any compensatory appreciation for their dangerous devotion to duty.
All they get are sporadic messages of praise for a job well done, or condolences when they die. This may sound a little harsh, but nine months after the pandemic broke out in Kenya, healthcare workers, especially doctors, are still complaining of inadequate or substandard personal protective gear.
They are still agitating for an insurance scheme that would help them bear the long hours with a semblance of fortitude.
Let us get something straight: These “frontline soldiers” are not expendable: they are people’s husbands, wives, uncles, aunties and children. If there are people who should be universally revered, it is them. It doesn’t matter that quite a number often mistreat their patients. Many nurses in public hospitals are reputed to vent their frustrations on the sick. Isn’t it time someone found out why they are always so grouchy and tried to sort out their problems?
Earlier this week, there was uproar among doctors when four of their colleagues died of Covid-19 within 24 hours. This was the culmination of a week in which six others had died, which was enough to convince the medics that they could be next unless something was done.
That is when they decided to go on strike. Should this be allowed, the consequences would be disastrous for Kenyans, the majority of whom cannot afford private hospitals.
Things get infinitely worse in a situation where there are only 7,333 registered doctors caring for more than 6,000 patients each, a figure high enough to cause discomfort as the universally recommended doctor-to-patient ratio is 1:300.
The doctors are not asking for too much. They just want to be paid allowances because of the extraordinary hours they keep and the risks they take in the line of duty. As their union complains, doctors work “in extremely difficult, draining, hazardous and injurious environments” and they deserve more sensitive treatment than they get. They also want a comprehensive medical cover and believe the best vehicle for this would be the National Hospital Insurance Fund. Don’t ask me why. The NHIF is said to be broke.
The doctors also want standardised PPE, and plenty of them to go round. These are not mind-boggling demands by any means, and ideally, they could be sorted out administratively. Where the doctors have lost me is when they demand a health service commission to be institutionalised in the Constitution. I don’t think that is a very good idea. Healthcare personnel are essential workers who cannot be allowed too much leeway especially in times of natural calamities such as Covid-19. Nevertheless, they need a stronger voice to articulate their views, and MPs should do it for them through vigorous legislation. But do the MPs care?
Judging from recent utterances by Kwanza MP Ferdinand Wanyonyi, they really don’t. Mr Wanyonyi was quoted as agitating for a standby helicopter in every county for MPs to access should they be afflicted by any life-threatening disease like, say, Covid-19.
Why he thinks MPs alone deserve special treatment in life-and-death situations is beyond comprehension. Parliament is where he and his colleagues should sit and pass legislation to improve healthcare for everybody. Whining at funerals is not part of it.
An even more dramatic display of concern for the sorely afflicted healthcare workers was from a man who knows what he is talking about, Dr James Nyikal.
A man with a rich CV both as a doctor, a unionist and administrator in the health sector, Dr Nyikal wept when he remembered just how badly doctors have always been treated by successive governments. The situation, he says, is worse in these days of Covid-19, and telling doctors to be patriotic when they risk their lives daily is cruel.
He asks: “Who said patriotism is suicide?”
That is a question that all Kenyans should ask themselves, but the good doctor needs to answer another. Between 2003 and 2008 he was the director of medical services. He probably tried to do his job well, but it clearly was not enough, otherwise he would not be lamenting so loudly on the matter today.