Kenya to hire foreign doctors as strike talks fail again

Wednesday March 08 2017

Doctors from private hospitals and universities join their counterparts from public facilities at a protest in Kisumu County on February 14, 2017: The national and county governments have withdrawn the enhanced package that they had offered the medics. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI

Kenyan authorities said Wednesday they would hire foreign doctors to get public hospitals running again after talks failed to end a strike that has crippled healthcare for 94 days.

The government has threatened repeatedly to fire striking doctors and has even gone so far as to jail union officials in a bid to end the country's longest-ever medical strike, but the doctors are digging their heels in.

Peter Munya, the chairman of the council of governors, said the government was "working on contingent measures to return the health sector to where it was by looking for services wherever they are available in the continent or outside the continent."

"We decided that doctors who have failed to resume work should consider themselves sacked," he added.

A furious President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday lambasted the some 5,000 doctors who have been striking for better pay and working conditions, accusing them of "blackmail".

"We will not succumb to threats and intimidation. Do these doctors think we are that stupid? We have offered you better salaries than those in private hospitals!" he said at a joint press conference with Munya.


READ: Kenya govt backtracks on deal with striking doctors

At the root of the doctors' strike is a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) agreed between the government and the unions in 2013.

The document promises to triple salaries but also to improve often dire conditions in public hospitals — which striking doctors point to when accused of being greedy.

The government said the document was still being fine-tuned but doctors argue it is a legal deal which they want implemented immediately.

A Kenyan court which declared the strike illegal appointed church leaders to mediate after several other mediators failed. However, even they failed to make headway after the union on Tuesday rejected a 50 per cent salary increase and improved risk allowance.

The previous offer had been 40 per cent.

Poor working conditions

Poor salaries and working conditions — such as a lack of vital drugs and equipment — have pushed Kenyan doctors to flee the public sector or go to other countries where there are better opportunities.

Kenya's main doctors' union, KMPDU, says the country has one doctor to 17,000 patients, while the World Health Organisation recommends one to 1,000.

University lecturers also went on strike in January, a double blow to Kenyatta's government just five months before general elections.

A series of corruption scandals — including in the health ministry — are fuelling the discontent, as is anger towards lawmakers who are among the best paid in the world and have voted themselves new benefits while claiming to be unable to meet doctors' and lecturers' demands.