Bodies pile up in morgues as doctors' strike continues

Mombasa residents seek medical services at the Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital in Mombasa as doctors strike bites. The hospital has drastically reduced operations.

Photo credit:  Kevin Odit| Nation Media Group

The ravaging effects of deserted hospital hallways, lonely wards and abandoned theatres are slowly piling pressure on public morgues which are getting overwhelmed by the ongoing doctors’ strike.

A survey by the Nation has established unusually increased activities in different mortuaries across the country as the grandstanding worsens the situation over a month later.

While the government has laid its focus on dealing with doctors and clinical officers who have resorted to demonstrating on the streets to demand improved welfare, thousands of helpless patients remain stranded and languish at their homes.

The fact that Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki has vowed to protect medics who have chosen to defy the back-to-work orders has not lessened the burden for patients who seek critical services in public hospitals.

The country’s health crisis further plunged into a crisis after consultants, clinical officers and medical laboratory technologists joined the strike started by the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU).

As the hardline stances between the government and the striking workers persist, patients who cannot afford to seek services in private hospitals continue to “pay with their lives”.

Instead of seeking treatment in hospitals, the mortuary at the Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital (CGTRH) witnesses increased crowds at the morgue day by day.

The Nation managed to confirm that one family was at the mortuary to pick up their beloved kin for burial while another had gone for viewing.

On the other hand, some residents raised concerns over the surging number of deaths reported at home in the past few weeks.

At Mtopanga estate in Kisauni Constituency, for instance, two such deaths have been reported in a span of about two weeks, according to residents, with one being that of a cancer patient.

KMPDU Mombasa branch secretary Ghalib Salim said most of the public hospitals in the six counties are operating below 30 per cent.

“Only contracted doctors who are not our members are running the few facilities. But at CGTRH, wards have been merged while others have been closed,” said Mr Salim.

Nine male wards at the referral hospital remain closed with only two operating.

At the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), only three patients are admitted in the 11-bed occupancy ward while the hospital’s maternity wing has remained closed.

The facility normally serves thousands of low-income earners on a daily basis while offering a wide variety of much sought-after services including high-level cardiac care and ICU facilities.

“I came to check if I can get details if my mother will get cancer services instead of coming with her and getting turned back but I am told they have closed,” said a frustrated John Masita.

Taita Taveta county branch secretary for the Kenya National Union of Nurses Richard Babu said although they cannot directly attribute current patients’ deaths to the strike, the impact of the doctor's strike is evident as some emergency cases are now being referred to private facilities.

“While we cannot conclusively attribute the deaths to the strike, it’s clear that the absence of a full healthcare team is impacting our emergency response capabilities,” he said.

Clinical officers and nurses who have not joined the strike and are handling minor cases said their capacity is inadequate.

Doctors strike

Hundreds of health workers participate in a demonstration in Nairobi on April 16, 2024.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

At Kisumu’s Jaramogi Oginga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH), a health worker who sought anonymity reported that patients deaths have increased due to lack of health worker’s attention.

He said that the regional facility had been hard hit by lack of consultants to deliver a range of health services.

He also noted that the facility has also stopped carrying out cesarean sections on pregnant mothers and attending to patients suffering from terminal illnesses, including cancer.

“For patients in need of chemotherapy, the facility has only been issuing new dates while further endangering the lives of patients,” said the health worker.

The nation has learnt that most cancer patients visiting JOOTRH are referred to private facilities to seek help while those who cannot afford private services remain unattended at the wards.

Speaking to Nation last week, the facility’s chief executive officer Dr Richard Lesiyampe while acknowledging that they are operating under difficult circumstances called for an urgent ceasefire to end the impasse that is threatening to disrupt the provision of health services.

At the onset of the doctors’ strike, Dr Lesiyampe invited members of the public who had lost their relatives to visit the facility on March 17 to identify the bodies ahead of mass disposal at the county cemetery by April 7.

He said that the bodies had been lying unclaimed at the facility from August last year which had been overstretched to handle incoming bodies.

In Trans Nzoia County, Nation has established that 18 bodies have been preserved at Kitale County Hospital in the last three weeks while 14 bodies at Wamalwa Kijana Referral Hospital morgue in the same period.

The period covers March 15 to date when the doctors downed their tools.

A source at the health department told Nation that the number is a higher figure compared to when services are normal at health facilities.

“This is a higher figure because normally we get fewer bodies when services are normal. The strike has really affected service delivery for locals,” the source said.

Another source at a private facility told the Nation that they have had an increase in the number of bodies being taken for preservation at their morgue.

Despite the strike affecting service delivery in Siaya County, Governor James Orengo has declared his support with the striking doctors, offering to rally a team of advocates for their cause.

This happened as patients avoid Siaya County Referral Hospital with the majority seeking the services in private facilities.

However, a senior official within the facility maintained that services are going on as usual as he pointed out that they are experiencing a low turn-out of patients.

Additional reporting by Anthony Kitimo, Lucy Mkanyika, Angeline Ochieng, Kassim Adinasi and Evans Jaol