NAIROBI, KENYA (AP) — Kenyan doctors and other crucial medical personnel in public hospitals on Monday started a nationwide strike to protest the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and health insurance for frontline workers fighting against the spread of the coronavirus.
The Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) announced its 7,200 members have been asked to stop working until the government meets their demands. This means a majority of Kenyan medical personnel in public hospitals are picketing amid a growing pandemic.
Kenya has reported 94,500 COVID-19 cases since the first positive case was detected in mid-March and 1,639 deaths.
Over 36,000 clinicians and nurses began a strike 15 days ago and talks to get them back to work collapsed, said Kenya Union of Clinical officers Deputy Secretary General Austine Oduor Otieno.
Until recently, Kenya’s infection numbers fell below countries in Europe or Latin America or even elsewhere in Africa. Only last month a surge drew continental concern when four doctors recently died in a single day.
The recent death of a 28-year-old medical intern from COVID-19 complications has been used to illustrate the challenges doctors are facing. The union launched the strike on Monday in his hometown in western Kenya’s Kisii county before attending his funeral.
“He embodied the reasons we have to go on strike; he is a young doctor who died without formal employment. He is a young doctor who died without national insurance cover (NHIF), he is a young doctor who died without compensation,” said Dr Kelvin Osur, a union official in charge of Nyanza region of western Kenya.
Kenya’s Health Minister has in recent weeks been warning medical workers who were already on strike and those planning to go on strike that they will lose their jobs. “I urge you to resume work to avoid losing your job. As we go toward the holiday season, do not be another statistic that will be a job seeker next year,” Mutahi Kagwe said.
In response the KMPDU Secretary General Chibanzi Mwachonda said threats and intimidation will only make things worse. “Stop threatening and intimidating our doctors. If you continue that path then we are going down the drain because the frontline workers will stay home and when they stay home there will be no fight against COVID-19,” said Mwachonda.
Mwachonda said doctors have been forced to raise funds for colleagues needing treatment for COVID-19. The union is demanding the government create facilities dedicated to treat medical workers, in addition to comprehensive life insurance, pensions and adequate PPE’s.
Many Kenyan have expressed anger on social media platforms at the government for not dealing with the medical workers plight and instead focussing on politics — pushing forward with a referendum to change the constitution to create more seats in the executive.