What you need to know:
- It is during the Kibaki Presidency that health workers found a voice.
- In 2010, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union was formed.
Last week we bid farewell to the third president of Kenya. The sombre ceremony was carried out in line with the state protocols befitting of former leader of the nation, complete with the half mast flags, three days of public viewing as he lay in state, observance of a public holiday in honour of the departed and the full military ceremony reserved for the Commander-In-Chief of the disciplined forces.
As the dust settles and normalcy returns, the medical fraternity reflects back on the impact of the Kibaki Presidency on the nation’s health sector. This comes with many fond memories for many of us. It is during the Kibaki Presidency that health workers found a voice!
In 2010, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union was formed. This was unheard of. The closest memory the profession had of doctors airing their grievances with regard to their working conditions was in 1994, and that ended in disaster!
The 1994 nascent union was shattered before it took root, the leaders persecuted to the point of fleeing for their lives and the medical workforce left demoralized and completely demotivated. There was a mass exodus of doctors out of Kenya, with many finding refuge in countries like Canada, The USA, Namibia and Botswana. The effects of the brain drain and the subduing of those left behind resulted in a near-collapse on the health sector in Kenya.
Nearly two decades later, a younger lot of doctors stepped into the shoes of their predecessors and decided to do something about the sorry state of affairs. They identified the challenges in the health sector and took an all-inclusive approach to resolving these issues. They appreciated that it is not possible to improve the working conditions of the health workers without improving the health facilities that they worked in and inadvertently improving the health outcomes of our patients.
The resolve of these doctors overshadowed their naivety in labour relations matters but they were open to learning from veterans in the field. Their first ever demonstration at the freedom Corner in Uhuru Park may have been small but it caught the attention of many. This is how the haggle to register a doctors’ union started.
It was no mean feat. There was a lot of opposition, citing that doctors were providers of an essential service and hence were ineligible to form a union, an opinion that was vehemently opposed in favour of upholding the Bill of Rights for all Kenyans.
The end result is that the young union was born, driven by passion and commitment by doctors who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
The first order of business was the execution of an industrial action. This was in response to hundreds of requests to the Ministry of Health, to improve the working conditions of health workers, that had gone unanswered over the years.
The doctors highlighted the rot in the healthcare system that not only affected them but also affected the patient. The result was that this resonated with the public and despite the stalling of services in the public facilities, Wanjiku stood with the doctors on this one.
The members of the public joined in the peaceful demonstrations in the city and even sat with the doctors when they staged a sit-down outside the Treasury to demand increased allocation of funds to the health docket from the annual budget.
The immediate response by government was to threaten, declare the strike illegal and stonewall communication. However, reason did prevail and the doctors agreed to resume work, on condition that the government partnered with the Union to prepare and implement a roadmap that would address the health sector problems.
This led to the creation of the development of a policy document titled “Strengthening Health Service Delivery”, popularly known as the Musyimi Task Force Report.
It is worth noting that this was the beginning of the turn-around in the health sector. The improved remuneration and better working conditions for health workers resulted in our doctors abroad being encouraged to return home and utilize their skillset locally.
In addition, the other healthcare workers, including the nurses and the clinical officers, were able to register their unions. As President Kibaki lays to rest, we remain cognizant of his contribution to empowering health care workers and restoring their rights as laborers. Rest in peace Commander-In-Chief!
Dr Bosire is an obstetrician/gynaecologist