The slow, painful death of Kenyan man as striking doctors watched

Striking healthworkers

Striking healthworkers in Nairobi gesture at police officers on patrol on April 16, 2024. They have vowed not to resume work until their demands are met.  

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Maxwell Maronda was admitted to hospital when he turned 24 earlier in the year.
  • Maronda’s ailment started as a toothache on January 28.
  • At Nairobi Women’s Hospital in Kitengela, doctors told Maronda that he had very low blood levels.

Hundreds of Kenyans are dying at home or private hospitals and village dispensaries as doctors square it out with the government over pay, posting and remuneration of interns.

The patients are the unfortunate pawns in this battle of titans that has dragged on for weeks as negotiations between the government and medical unions drag on. The Daily Nation has been on the trail of one such patient and reveals how the young man, who in his prime was full of energy and big dreams, died after days of neglect in empty hospital halls.

Maxwell Maronda was admitted to hospital when he turned 24 earlier in the year.

At the time, doctors were planning to go on strike, and his family hoped he would be discharged before that happened.

Maronda was the third born and the only son in a family of four.

He was planning to build himself a house in Keroka. His eldest sister, Jillian Bonareri, told the Daily Nation that Maronda was as go-getter.

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Maronda’s ailment started as a toothache on January 28. He went to local dentist to get checked. His overgrown tooth was extracted in the process. That was way before the doctors began the work boycott.

“When my brother woke up after a six-hour sleep, he found his bed soaked in blood. He did not know why he had bled so much when it was a mere toothache,” said Ms Bonareri.

Maronda quickly went to a pharmacy but the attendants referred him to the hospital the tooth was extracted.

He, however, did not get the help he had hoped for. By that time, the bleeding was accompanied by an unusual headache.

Maronda went to a different hospital for a second opinion.

At Nairobi Women’s Hospital in Kitengela, doctors told Maronda that he had very low blood levels.

They attended to him, and the gushing blood episode and the migraine ebbed, but only for a few days.

“He was working on his laptop at his house days later when his vision became blurry. He fell but remained conscious,” Ms Bonareri says.

“He managed to crawl to his door and seek help from a neighbour who took him to hospital.”

Maronda was sent on an emergency referral to another private hospital where he remained for two weeks.

Ms Bonareri says the medical bill shot to Sh300,000. The only diagnosis at the time was that he had low platelets and red blood cells.

“That is why my brother was bleeding a lot,” she said.

In the two weeks that he remained at the hospital, Maronda only had a blood transfusion.

The young man was still unwell when he was discharged.

He took the decision to go to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), accompanied by his girlfriend. That was after getting a referral from where he had been discharged. There, Maronda was to see a haematologist for a bone marrow test.

The doctors at KNH ruled out sickle cell anaemia and leukaemia but Maronda was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia.

This is a rare blood condition caused by damage to the bone marrow that stops production of new blood cells.

He was given drugs to last him a few days and advised to identify a hospital he could receive frequent blood transfusions.

Maronda chose Mama Lucy Hospital in Kayole because of its proximity to his house in Saika, a settlement off Kangundo Road.

About the same time he was choosing Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital as his transfusion centre, doctors were busy protesting in the streets.

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They waved placards, vowing not to resume duty until their demands were met by the government.

Maronda had a hospital, but no doctor to attend to him.

Days later, he fainted at home, again. Maronda’s family moved him from one hospital to another in an effort to have him admitted for close examination.

Unfortunately, none of the hospitals wanted him and those that did had no personnel or equipment required.

“The family was very desperate as we watched him waste away. We had to look for connections to get a bed at Mama Lucy Hospital,” Ms Bonareri says.

“We begged the doctors to come to his assistance but they were on strike. There was no doctor on call when he was admitted to Mama Lucy. Those who agreed to talk advised us to transfer him to a different hospital.”

The family says that the doctors consulted ignored the aplastic anaemia diagnosis. With few willing to observe him or run tests, Maronda watched in despair as his body started giving in.

A young man been abandoned at his greatest hour of need. He could not afford expensive private health care. As a Kenyan adult, he qualified to get the best level of medical care from a public hospital. The help never came. One morning, Maronda got a heart and the family thought he had died.

It was a relief seeing him wake up. He was again rushed to Mama Lucy Hospital. The few attendants around advised the family to take the young man to a different hospital because of the strike. They chose Kijabe Mission Hospital, about 70 kilometres away.

“At first, doctors at Kijabe didn’t understand why a young man was having heart attacks. Maronda started coughing blood as he struggled to breath. We were later informed that his transfusion wasn’t done properly and the mistake was causing his heart to struggle,” Ms Bonareri said.

Maxwell, now a shell of his former, healthy self, was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit but died days later.

The family later learnt that he contracted a blood infection and malaria.

“We had many questions on how he was treated at the other hospitals. We were just afraid of asking questions because all we needed was help. We had to accept whatever help we could get,” Ms Bonareri said.

She is sure her brother would still be alive had the doctors been working. Now the family has been left with a Sh300,000 hospital bill that it is struggling to offset through fundraisers.

“The government should end this standoff with doctors. It is ordinary people like us who cannot afford services at big private hospitals that are suffering. You can only feel the pinch if you lose someone close to you,” Ms Bonareri said.

“Kenyans need the doctors. It’s not just Maronda who has died while doctors are away. Someone also died next to his bed at Mama Lucy Hospital and that really terrified him. The government shouldn’t let doctors be on the streets protesting. They should be at hospital.”

The government, meanwhile, has refused to acquiesce to doctors’ demands. It says it does not have the money to pay what interns are asking for, and that the healthworkers must learn to live within their means.

Across the country, however, doctors insist they have to be paid what is due to them under a 2017 collective bargaining agreement that raised their salaries and allowances.

They say the government can afford to pay them but it does not prioritise healthcare.

In hundreds of thousands of Kenyan homes, hidden from the public, thousands of patients are wasting away. Some will survive and some – like Maronda – will definitely not.