Health crisis as nurses begin nationwide strike today


Mombasa County Nurses light up candles during the burial of their colleague Margaret Ngeti, a nurse at Portrietz Hospital in Mombasa who succumbed to covid 19 in this photo taken on 12th November 2020.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group.

What you need to know:

  • In Homa Bay, the Kenya National Union of Nurses official Ms Lilian Oguttu said their members had notified the county government about the planned strike.

Nurses in public hospitals will begin their strike today to press for higher pay and better working conditions, a move that will deepen the nation’s healthcare crisis occasioned by Covid-19 pandemic.

However, doctors last evening suspended their strike for 14 days to allow negotiations to resume.

Nurses and other health workers will boycott duty from midnight.  This will effectively paralyse operations in public hospitals that are already reeling under the weight of surging patient numbers due to coronavirus.

Health workers have accused the government of negligence, including failing to supply them with personal protective equipment (PPEs).

They say dozens of their colleagues have been killed by the virus and demanded that elderly members who are vulnerable be exempted from duty, a demand that authorities are reluctant to accede to given the shortage of health workers and surging patient numbers.

Some counties were yesterday scrambling to contact retired doctors and nurses as well as rally health workers who are not union members to step in should their employees abscond duty. 

“Our strike is on. We had given them (government) enough time for discussion and if it is the strike language that they will understand, then we have no option. We are beginning our strike tomorrow (Monday) midnight,” said the Kenya Clinical Union Officer Secretary-General George Gibore.

Vulnerable category

Mr Gibore said most of their members who have been killed by the virus were above 55 years; hence the push by the union to have those in the vulnerable category be exempted from frontline duties.

Yesterday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said 396 new infections were reported from a sample of 4, 717. The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases rose to 88, 380 from 931, 799 people tested so far. The disease killed eight more patients, raising the death toll to 1, 526, the CS added.

Meanwhile, counties in Nyanza and Western region were yesterday considering various measures to minimise the effects of the health workers’ strike.

In Kakamega, the county is planning to recruit retired nurses and doctors. Health Executive Collins Matemba said the demands by doctors and nurses are unreasonable.  In Vihiga, Health Chief Officer Arnold Mamadi said they had procured PPEs for health workers for use in the next three months.  However, he said efforts to resolve the labour dispute had not borne any fruit.

In Homa Bay, the Kenya National Union of Nurses official Ms Lilian Oguttu said their members had notified the county government about the planned strike.

"We will not be at work unless we get communication from our head office. The strike is still on," she said.

In Nyamira, Knun Secretary Bernard Kerosi,  and other officials asked health workers to stay at home until the county agrees to address their grievances. In Kisumu, the health department plans to work with nurses who are not union members to sustain services in major hospitals.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui said his administration has met over 90 per cent of the health workers’ demands.  “Whereas the county has met its obligations, we regret to note that the intended strike on the basis of solidarity with other counties, will be in bad taste.”

Reporting by Angela Oketch, Benson Amadala, Elizabeth Ojina, Derick Luvega, George Odiwuor, Benson Ayienda and Phyllis Musasia