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Kenyan government doctors sign agreement to end strike

FILE - Health workers under the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) demonstrate in Nairobi, Kenya, April 16, 2024.
FILE - Health workers under the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) demonstrate in Nairobi, Kenya, April 16, 2024.

Kenyan public hospital doctors on Wednesday signed a return to work agreement with the government meant to end a strike that started in mid-March, union and government officials said.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), which represents more than 7,000 members, went on strike on March 15 to demand payment of their salary arrears and the immediate hiring of trainee doctors, among other grievances.

Television footage showed the union's officials and senior government officials shaking hands after signing the documents.

"We have signed a return to work formula and the union has called off the strike," said Susan Nakhumicha, the minister of health.

The doctors' arrears arose from a 2017 collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the union said. Doctors were also demanding the provision of adequate medical insurance coverage for themselves and their dependents.

"One thing we must assure everybody, every doctor, every person that the rights of workers as enshrined in the collective bargaining agreement that is signed is that it is sacrosanct, we will always endeavor to protect that," said Dhavji Atellah, KMPDU's secretary general.

He said the hiring of interns demand was still pending in court, but it was agreed they would be posted within 60 days.

The government had said it cannot afford to hire the trainee doctors due to financial pressure on the public purse.

The Kenyan health sector, which doctors say is underfunded and understaffed, is routinely beset by strikes.

A strike in 2017 lasted three months, and some doctors in individual hospitals downed their tools at various times during the COVID-19 pandemic to protest lack of personal protective equipment and other grievances.

The end of the strike will provide relief to those seeking services, especially following heavy rains and flooding that has killed 257 people since March, and displaced 293,661 people.

"We will wish they can go back in the next few minutes because we really want our health to be back on track," said Muthomi Njuki, the governor of Tharaka Nithi County, citing cholera cases that have arisen in some parts of the country.

Another group of health workers, clinical officers, are still on strike.

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