Cuban doctors who get paid millions for zero work

Cuban doctors in Kenya

The then Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe addresses some of the Cuban doctors stationed at the Kenyatta University Teaching Referral and Research Hospital (KUTRRH) on August 5, 2020.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Governors have demanded a review of the deal that brought 120 Cuban doctors to Kenya, amidst claims that the government is spending millions of shillings every month in salaries and hospitality costs for medics who are not doing any work.

Council of Governors chairperson Anne Waiguru says county bosses have called for a meeting with the Health ministry to discuss the way forward regarding the Nairobi-Havana agreement.

“We will meet with the Health Cabinet Secretary to review the performance, terms and conditions of engagement of the current cohort of Cuban doctors,” said Ms Waiguru.

A number of the 120 doctors are housed at the Kenya School of Government (KSG) in Lower Kabete in the outskirts of Nairobi.

Whereas an administrator at the school said the doctors use KSG as their base and that they visit surrounding hospitals to attend to patients, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) says most are staying idle as the government spends loads of cash on them.

Dr Davji Atellah, the KMPDU secretary-general, said they are waiting for the Cabinet Secretary to hold talks with governors and that the Cuban doctors’ project “abused the intelligence” of Kenyans and the medical fraternity.

According to Dr Atellah, this is a scandalous project waiting to explode.

“Pushing Cuban doctors to our system was someone’s project to make money and deny local doctors an opportunity to get employed. They are being paid by taxpayers and they are doing nothing. That money would be enough to employ (local) doctors,” Dr Atellah said.

He called upon the Health Cabinet Secretary not to renew the contracts, should they expire, and instead use the money to employ local doctors whose skills risk waning over time. Dr Attellah noted that the doctors have been “lying idle” without offering services that brought them into the country and earned millions of taxpayers’ money.

Our spot-check revealed that the doctors live in flats used by students attending short courses at KSG. Residents who spoke with the Sunday Nation on Friday said the doctors barely interact with locals. We observed that the medics move about in groups of at least two.

“I don’t know their story. We only see them at lunch hour (at the eatery),” said a student residing in the school, who shares a hostel floor with some of the doctors.

At 1.20pm, a group of four Cuban medics – three men and a woman – could be seen strolling down a road at the institution. One man had a bouquet of flowers, as did the woman. Earlier, at 10.29am, two others were seen strolling up the same pavement.

The Sunday Nation understands that a number of the doctors based at the facility had been withdrawn from insecurity-prone counties – including Wajir, Garissa, Tana River, Lamu, Isiolo, and Taita-Taveta – after the April 2019 kidnap of two Cuban doctors in Mandera by al-Shabaab militants. The terror group would release the two in October 2020.

The Health ministry did not immediately respond to our queries on the exact terms of engagement with the Cuban practitioners.

The doctors came to Kenya due to an agreement Nairobi entered with Havana five years ago. Through the deal, Kenya wanted to improve healthcare by importing the services of Cuban radiologists, surgeons, orthopaedists, neurologists, and nephrologists.

As a result of the agreement, 53 family doctors and 47 specialists arrived in the country in 2018 amidst complaints from the local doctors. The initial contract was to last two years and it was later renewed.

Every county got at least two specialists, a boon for regions like Mandera, Vihiga, Marsabit and Wajir, which had no specialist before the Cubans were posted there.

Another cohort of 20 specialised doctors (internal medicine, oncology, cardiology, and paediatrics) arrived in July 2020 to bolster the fight against Covid-19.

Besides serving patients, the then Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said that the Cuban healthcare workers would also train local doctors to offer the same kind of quality care available in their country. Then, the ministry said the doctors were deployed to Kenyatta National Hospital, the National Spinal Injury Hospital, Mathare Hospital and Kiambu Hospital.

However, enquiries by the Sunday Nation revealed that the Cuban specialists have barely been spotted in the many hospitals in recent times.

According to the deal signed between Kenya and Cuba, the doctors were to be offered security, furnished homes, airfare for holidays, paid utilities and transport on top of their salaries.

The county governments where the doctors were deployed were responsible for providing accommodation, furniture, kitchen tools, electricity, water and cooking gas for each of the doctors. County governments were to provide the doctors with furnished apartments because they were not getting house and commuter allowances.

The national government, on the other hand, committed to be paying each of the doctors a monthly stipend of $1,000 (Sh125,003) while another extra $4,000 (Sh500,012) goes to the Cuban government for each of the doctors. The money is paid into the Cuban government-held bank account at the Banco Financiero Internacional SA, Havana. Deposits are made in euros based on the exchange rate at the time of payment.

The Cuban doctors are insured under the Public Service Commission and enjoy comprehensive medical insurance coverage under the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF). .