Covid-19 crisis looms over health workers’ strikes


What you need to know:

  • One would expect that hospitals and health workers would be in overdrive, preparing for the big battle ahead.
  • Nurses and clinical officers have issued a nationwide strike notice beginning Monday next week.

Kenya is staring at a health crisis as its peak of Covid-19 infections, projected to be in September, fast approaches.

A University of Nairobi projection shows that, by next month, the country will have more than 241,000 severe coronavirus cases, with 102,742 patients showing symptoms and 8,755 requiring admission to hospital.

Despite this grim reality, one would expect that hospitals and health workers, the soldiers in the front line, would be in overdrive, preparing for the big battle ahead.

Abandoning stations

But health staff are downing their tools and abandoning stations, threatening to shut down the entire healthcare system over unpaid salaries and other welfare concerns.

More than 720 men and women entrusted with the task of stopping the virus are also sick and limping while 10 have already died, according to their unions. Already, the crisis is a reality in Nairobi – the national coronavirus hotbed – where more than five medical centres have been closed after workers contracted the virus.

In Homa Bay, Kisumu, Siaya and Mandera, health workers have been boycotting work over unpaid salaries and allowances.

Nurses and clinical officers have issued a nationwide strike notice beginning Monday next week.

Knun Secretary-General Seth Panyako Wednesday said the union is not going to sacrifice the lives of its nurses.

N-95 face masks

“Nurses and health workers across the counties will from Monday not go to work if they do not have N-95 face masks, if their working environment and conditions are not safe and improved, if their remuneration is not looked into, if they do not have medical insurance and if their risk allowances are not addressed,” he said.

The Kenya Union of Clinical Officers, on the other hand, is targeting counties that have not paid May, June and July salaries.

“How do you expect them to move or even pay their bills if you have not paid them for two consecutive months?” said Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Secretary-General George Gibore.

“We will not listen or engage the counties anymore but we will speak in a voice that they understand better, which is going on strike as from Monday. None of our members will report to work unless we receive our salaries,” he said.

Address grievances

The threats have drawn the attention of the national government, with Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe Wednesday directing county governments to address their grievances.

“Health service delivery remains a devolved function. We urge all county governments to listen to any concerns raised by our healthcare workers with a view of addressing them,” he said.

Mr Gibore called upon President Uhuru Kenyatta to extend the risk allowance until June 2021 or until the end of Covid-19 since the initial one only catered for three months.

“We were only given risk allowance for three months. What happens to the other months that we have started working and the money has not been released?” Mr Gibore posed.

Mr Gibore also expressed fears that there is no testing and contact tracing happening among the health workers after their colleagues tested positive.

Reporting by Angela Okech, Bernadine Mutanu and Brian Okinda