Storm in Murang'a over popular lawyer's death in suspected negligence
The health sector in Murang'a County is in the midst of a storm following the death of popular lawyer Joseph Wachira, in what is suspected to be negligence.
The death has drawn the ire of the Law Society of Kenya, Governor Irungu Kang'ata, Senator Joe Nyutu, friends and family of the deceased.
Wachira was known for his kindness, pro bono legal services to the poor and for being quick to give free legal advice to strangers, even over the phone.
“Those who knew him and had his phone number would refer their friends to him. Even if he did not know you and you called him, he would advise you if you needed the services of a lawyer, whether you wanted to hire him or not," said Gaturi MCA Gathee wa Njeri.
Because of this, he earned the moniker “wakili wa mashinani” (the grassroots lawyer).
After falling ill on May 15, Wachira was rushed to Kiriaini Mission Hospital, but his condition was declared critical and he was transferred to Murang'a Level Five Hospital.
When he died, his family released a statement describing his last moments as uneventful and said he had been in good spirits.
"He was in good health and spirits throughout the day of May 15 when he even appeared in court in Nanyuki and later drove past a garage in Kiriaini town, which is his home," the statement said.
At about 11pm, while at home, he had convulsions and was rushed to Kiriaini Mission Hospital.
“He was then transferred to Murang'a Level Five where he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU),” the statement said.
In May 2020, former governor Mwangi wa Iria built the 35-bed ICU in 20 days, and residents believed their health emergencies would be a thing of the past.
It is at this county referral facility that Wachira's friends and relatives claim there was no ambulance to evacuate him to Kenyatta National Hospital after Murang'a declared his condition to be dire.
While waiting for an ambulance, Wachira developed breathing difficulties and there was no oxygen in the hospital.
This was despite the fact that Governor Irungu Kang'ata was among the county leaders who had received oxygen cylinders on behalf of needy patients at State House on April 17.
Wachira was later evacuated to the Kenyatta University Referral and Teaching Hospital, where he died around 5pm on May 17.
“It is unacceptable and must be called out. The nearest available ambulance was said to be in Kirinyaga County. There was no oxygen. This situation can only be blamed on the county," Mr Nyutu said on Monday.
His friend Peter Kihiko, who confirmed the death, paid tribute to Wachira saying: "Rest in eternal peace Wakili ... if only Murang'a Hospital had a working ambulance on duty and a working oxygen supply, your life could have been saved.".
He complained that after the county failed to provide an ambulance for the lawyer's emergency case, "one had to be brought from Nyeri County".
"Let the people of Murang'a know that the empty oxygen cylinders delivered to Murang'a Level 5 Hospital were just a public relations exercise. This was total negligence on the part of the hospital and Governor Kang'ata's government," said Mr Kihiko.
Dr Kang'ata told Nation.Africa that the death was unfortunate but did not occur under the circumstances cited.
“The ambulances were available and any Murang'a person who is registered with the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) can dial the toll-free number 1199 and get one free of charge,” he said and went on to blame the national government for the oxygen shortage. “We got the cylinders as donations but we're still waiting for the same government to give us the oxygen as they said they would.”
The governor said it was unfortunate that "the lawyer, who is my personal friend, has passed away. We express our regret".
He said: “The information we have is that the ambulance came on time but some of his family members were uncomfortable with his condition.”
There was a delay, he said, caused by the family's demand that "a better one, which was not available at the time, be mobilised but (it) was not immediately available".
Area Law Society of Kenya chairman Alex Ndegwa described the death as distressing and one that would be investigated.
“We are first engaging the family who are in mourning. We want to be meticulous in this matter. We will then look at all aspects of it and make a full statement," he said.
He said all options remained open, "including the option of going to court".
Mr Ndegwa said the LSK, as part of the voice of the people, is deeply concerned and will use all legal means to ensure that acts of commission and omission that endanger lives are neutered in the interest of the public and justice.
As his vast network of colleagues, friends and well-wishers prepare to bury him in his village of Kiambuthia in Mathioya Constituency, Senator Nyutu wishes that gaps in the county's health services are addressed.
"It is the duty of the county assembly to oversee the executive. The MCAs are the ones who vote for budgets and monitor implementation. I will continue to lobby for increased funding and timely disbursement as I have done from my national perch," he said.
Mrs Bella Wambui eulogised Wachira: "It is so sad, I have cried a river, a young vibrant handsome man has rested. Rest in peace, the village lawyer as they called you, Murang'a has lost a jewel."
Mr Bernard Kamau said, “This still feels like a bad dream ... I cannot believe that you are no longer my schoolmate ... you encouraged me a few weeks ago for still holding on to my salvation since high school. I have yet to meet a sharper brain and a wittier mind ... very humble and humorous.”