Kenya’s striking doctors have called on the international community to pressure the government to meet their demands, after the administration threatened to withhold their salaries if they don’t return to work.
“We are calling on international labor organizations to intervene and guarantee the rights of workers in this country. We are also calling on the donors, who fund the same ministry, to intervene and put pressure on the government to listen to the doctors,” said Dr. Were Onyino, secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentist Union (KMPPDU).
He said the government’s threat violates the constitutional rights of the doctors.
“We are not going to go back to work, until the issues we raised are fully addressed. As doctors, we are not going to accept [the government threat],” said Onyino.
The government recently described the doctors’ strike as illegal. The health care union said its members would not go back to work until their demands are met.
But, Medical Services Minister Anyang Nyong’o said the government is indeed ready to address the grievances cited by the striking health workers.
“We condemn some selfish doctors who incite professional health workers and disrupt delivery of health services to needy Kenyans,” Nyong'o said, according to Kenyan media.
Some Kenyans say the strike poses a threat to health care throughout the country and that it affects mostly the poor who cannot afford to go to private clinics or hospitals.
Onyino said the government is to blame for the stalemate.
“The government must come to the table and negotiate with the union. [But], the only thing the government has offered are threats of sacking and intimidation and stopping our salaries, instead of coming to the table and negotiating and ending the stalemate,” Onyino said. “We know that the public, especially the patients, who cannot afford to pay for the healthcare, are the ones who are being affected. We are ready and willing to talk to the government, but the government has to make the first step to come to the table.”
Onyino said the government has not yet made improvements in the country’s health care delivery system as called for in the December agreement.
He said observers have expressed concern that the government could fire the doctors if they continue their strike action. But, Onyino disagreed.
“That would be an uncalled for move,” said Onyino. “It’s not possible to fire the 3,000 doctors because the cost of hiring these doctors and recruiting them back to service is more expensive than sitting down and listening to their demands. The issues we have raised are reasonable and are issues that would go a long way to address things that are ailing the health sector in this country.”