NAIROBI, KENYA - In March, Kenya agreed to accelerate a health agreement it signed with Cuba last year to bring in 100 doctors. The doctors, who have started arriving in Kenya, are meant to fill what the government has termed "gaps" in county hospitals. The Kenyan doctors' union thinks those gaps should be filled by locals.
The first group of 50 Cuban medics arrived late Tuesday and were welcomed at the airport by top government officials and representatives from Kenya's Ministry of Health.
A second group of 50 arrives Thursday. Thereafter, the doctors will be posted to various hospitals in Kenya's 47 counties. Each county is expected to get at least two doctors.
However, the Kenyan Medical Pharmacists and Dentists Union is criticizing the deal, insisting Kenyan doctors could have been trained and hired for the positions.
“Our appeal and advice is that as we consider bringing expertise from other countries, we need to exhaust what we have locally," said Samuel Oroko, KMPDU’S chair. "And if we lack capacity locally we should focus on training our own so that they can be able to manage the patients in Kenya.”
KMPDU said more than 1,200 Kenyan doctors were unemployed as of May 2017.
"We do have a number of doctors who have qualified [as] both general practitioners and specialists, who have not been employed and they are Kenyans," Oroko said.
This is not the first time the Kenyan government has tried to import medical staff. Last year, when Kenyan doctors went on strike for better pay and working conditions, KMPDU blocked attempts to bring in doctors from Tanzania.
Kenya's Cabinet secretary for health, Sicily Kariuki, has stated in the past that the country does not have enough specialists.
She said that Kenya stands to learn lessons from Cuba’s many years of providing universal health coverage to its citizens. She said Cuba has a strong primary health care model that, in her words, "Kenya is now pursuing."
"There is every conviction that we need to reorient our approach, and to give more focus to preventive as opposed to curative approach, which is currently how our health sector is oriented," she said.
Over the past 50 years, Cuba has consistently used the export of its doctors as a powerful and far-reaching tool of health diplomacy. It sent its first doctors overseas as far back as 1963, and to date has sent physicians to over 100 countries.
Uganda's government is also making plans to hire Cuban doctors, due to a shortage of medical specialists on the country. According to the deal, Uganda will hire at least 200 doctors -- a move that the doctors union in Uganda is also against.