The medics the country forgot after Covid-19 peak

Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha Wafula

Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha Wafula. She gazetted the Social Health Insurance Act on November 22, 2023.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Thousands of medics who risked their lives to serve patients in hospital wards at the peak of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic have gone for months without pay, tossed around by national and county governments.

As a result of the neglect, some have slumped into depression, others contemplating suicide, unable to feed themselves and their families.

This is the plight of 8,500 healthcare workers the Ministry of Health (MoH) hired and dispatched to all 47 counties three years ago under the Universal Healthcare Programme (UHC) to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

They have now jointly written to President William Ruto over three months of unpaid dues. This comes as the country this week embarked on commemorating 10 years of devolution, which includes health as a devolved function.

The official letter seen by Saturday Nation dated August 11th 2023, describes their plight as urgent, and mentions the tribulations they are going through, including being kicked out of their rented homes by their landlords.

The healthcare workers, who were recently given new contracts after being absorbed to the various counties where they were dispatched, say that UHC Cohort 1 has not been paid since May this year while UHC Cohort 2 has not been paid since June after their contracts were renewed earlier this year.

“We write to draw your immediate attention to a matter of paramount concern - the status of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) workforce and the prevalent disparities in their remuneration...the employment terms for UHC personnel remain contractual, leading to irregularities and disparities within the system, which are inconsistent with prevailing labor regulations,” the health workers say.

“It is disconcerting to note that these healthcare professionals, who constitute the backbone of our nation's universal healthcare aspirations, face uncertainties about their employment status and financial stability,” the letter continues.

As a result, he health workers are asking for permanent and pensionable positions. They believe that this pivotal step would not only fortify the job security of UHC staff, but also acknowledge and reward their contributions to our country's healthcare landscape.

“Harmonization of Remuneration: Despite their pivotal roles, UHC personnel presently contend with disparities in their compensation when juxtaposed with their counterparts in analogous positions. In the interest of equitable remuneration for commensurate endeavors, we kindly implore you to initiate measures towards harmonizing the remuneration structure among UHC personnel, thus aligning their earnings with those of their peers under permanent and pensionable terms,” they added.

“Recognition and Remuneration for Extraordinary Services: Furthermore, we kindly seek your support in ensuring that UHC staff receive equitable gratuity and recognition for their exceptional efforts, akin to their fellow healthcare professionals.”

On timely salary disbursement, UHC staff disclosed to President Ruto that they have been encountering undue delays in the disbursement of their salaries despite their consistent dedication and diligent service.

“The proactive resolution of these concerns would...enhance the efficacy of the UHC program and significantly contribute to the realization of our shared vision of equitable and accessible healthcare for all,” the healthworkers told the President.

“My husband and I were both employed under UHC Cohort 1 and life is beyond tough because we totally have no income and the expected one that was consolidated is too little. How do we even afford fare to go to work?” A female doctor who was dispatched to Machakos County told Saturday Nation in an interview, while another added,

“I am a nutrition technician in Kiambu County being paid a consolidated salary of Sh 31,000 without allowances,” she said, and added,

“It is such a shame because when working for the government was everything years back, today it is making me feel like a slave in my own country.”

An oral health officer who was dispatched to Lari Level 4 Hospital told Saturday Nation that besides not being paid for the third month now, her contract is also yet to be renewed.

“We work for very many hours and have totally nothing to show for it in a country where parliamentarians are ever passing motions to increase their salaries and allowances,” she says.

Saturday Nation contacted Health CS Susan Nakhumicha, who promised to get back later, though in an interview on NTV Kenya this week, CS Nakhumicha told NTV’s Ms Zeynab Ismail that the UHC programme is a failure.

“The UHC programme has failed three times in the previous regime, but we are working on a fourth attempt which I can assure you will be successful because we are streamlining everything including the human resource aspect of it,” she said.