Pain and agony across the country as doctors' strike continues to bite

Doctors' Strike

Hundreds of medics participate in a demonstration in Nairobi on April 8.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Religious leaders appeal to the President to dialogue with medics to end the suffering of Kenyans.
  • Two children die in Mombasa as patients wait for long hours with no services in public hospitals as health crisis persists.

Stranded and abandoned patients, desperation and pain painted a grim picture in public hospitals as the strike by medics persisted across the country.

So dire is the situation that religious leaders have made an urgent appeal to the government to consider engaging the medics who have vowed not to resume duty until their demands for better salaries and conditions of service are met.

While President William Ruto has maintained that the government has no money to increase doctors’ salaries, the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) has underlined the need to consider some of the issues raised by doctors and other medical practitioners.

For the fourth week now, access to healthcare in public hospitals has been paralysed after members of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentist Union (KMPDU) downed their tools to demand payment of their salary arrears and the immediate hiring of trainee doctors, among other grievances.

The health sector further sank into turmoil after the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (Kuco) and Kenya National Union of Medical Laboratory Officers (KNUMLO) counterparts joined the fray to push for improvement of their welfare.

A spot check by the Nation yesterday established empty wards as patients continued to bear the brunt of the work boycott across public health facilities.

Patients in Nyeri, Kiambu, Kisii, Kilifi, Kisumu and Mombasa counties were forced to seek services in private hospitals.

Most public hospitals in Mombasa remained deserted after in-patients were transferred to private hospitals when the strike started.

Deborah Wacheke Wangechi, 23, who was scalded on her hands, face and chest after her boyfriend allegedly poured hot oil on her was taken to hospital in excruciating pain.

Efforts by her family to have her treated at the Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital failed when doctors announced the beginning of their strike on March 15.

“She was going through a lot of pain, crying out to doctors to come to her aid in vain,” narrated their mother Esther Wangechi.

“Health workers we found at the hospital only guided me on how to take care of her, yet I have no idea how a patient with such wounds should be treated.”

When Wangechi’s condition got worse, the family was forced to take her to a private hospital.

They are now getting worried over the rising medical bill.

“The bill was initially Sh270,000, I’ve managed to pay partly and reduced it to Sh230,000. I do not know how long I’m going to be admitted here,” she said.

KMPDU Coast branch secretary Dr Gharib Salim Ali told the Nation that two children from Likoni have died as a result of lack of services in public hospitals.

“We have lost two children from Likoni Sub-County Hospital who had been referred to Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital ,” Dr Ali said.

In the neighbouring Kilifi County, medics told the Nation that some services are being offered in sub-county hospitals, with the Kilifi County and Referral Hospital offering minimal services. An internal memorandum from the Medical Superintendent on March 14 to the staff said the hospital team had reorganised operations following the strike.

According to the memo, the Intensive Care Unit, maternity and renal services would be available, but all elective cases and special clinics run by medical specialists have been suspended.

“The hospital has a bed capacity of around 300 but we have less than 50 in-patients. A ward with 40 beds only has seven patients,” a source at the hospital said.

In Kisumu, the ever busy Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital continued receiving few patients as medics’ work boycott persisted.

The hospital’s chief executive officer Dr Richard Lesiyampe said the situation worsened after clinical officers joined the strike to press for better salaries and conditions of service.

To cope with the situation, he said the management has been forced to rely on heads of departments, nurses and 84 consultants to provide critical and emergency services.

“We continue to operate but in very difficult circumstances,” he said, as he called for an urgent ceasefire to end the impasse that is threatening to disrupt provision of health services at the busy referral and teaching facility.

This happened as the family of 27-year-old Velma Akoth, who was set to deliver her third child through caesarian section, remained on the edge.

“We have not been able to get any update for over three hours after she was given labour induction medication and admitted at the facility,” said Angeline Achieng, Velma’s sister.

Despite fewer patients seeking medical services, a spot check by Nation found staff in other departments going on with their normal duties as patients slowly streamed in to be attended.

Dr Lesiyampe, however, said that the management has scaled down services and will mainly concentrate on handling emergency cases, pregnant mothers and those with terminal conditions.

“While the doctors and clinical officers have a right to be addressed, we should be careful not to deny patients their right of access to healthcare because this is essential to human dignity and their well-being,” he said.

In Kisii, patients who sought services at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital complained that they were being kept waiting for long hours.

Ms Alice Magoma, whom we found at the entrance to the hospital, said she had waited for five hours without treatment.

“There are only a handful of health workers attending to patients. I came here for a checkup at 8am and it is now 2pm. I haven't seen a doctor, I am going elsewhere to seek help," she complained.

The Council of Imams have asked President Ruto to urgently take over the dialogue with the striking medics, while accusing Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha of failing to handle the matter.

Overseer of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God Reverend Joseph Otondo echoed the call for dialogue.

“It is unfortunate that those who work tirelessly to safeguard our health are being disregarded. Let the government dialogue with doctors in a honourable manner for the sake of suffering poor Kenyans,” said Rev Otondo

This happened as Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga stopped the salaries for all striking doctors in the county and threatened to sack all those who do not resume duty immediately.

Mr Kahiga claimed that his government has kept it's part of the CBA entered in 2017 as he accused the medics of disregarding a court order requiring them to resume duty.

- Additional reporting by Stephen Munyiri, Titus Ominde, Fatuma Bugu, Winnie Atieno, Maureen Ongala, Domnic Ombok and Wycliffe Nyaberi