NAIROBI, KENYA - A decision by the government to fire doctors who went on strike three months ago has left Kenya’s health care sector in crisis.
Kenyans remain in limbo after the two sides failed to agree on and sign documents that cover a range of issues, including better pay and working conditions for the doctors, improved health facilities and security for medical staff.
Peter Munya is the governor of the state of Meru and chairman of the council of governors. He says the government remains firm in its decision to penalize doctors who refuse to return to work.
“The decision we took still stands and I am told people are following the processes of laying off those who have not reported back to work,” said Munya. “I am told [disciplinary measures] have been given. So that is what we are implementing.”
12 medics fired
On Wednesday, the biggest hospital in the county, Kenyatta National Hospital, fired 12 medics and put 48 others on notice.
Kenyan media report a handful of physicians returned to work.
Dr. George Got is with the union that represents the doctors. He said its national advisory council agreed to proposed amendments presented in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that now awaits the signatures of both parties.
“I can only confirm, we were told that the CBA would be signed with the amendments,” said Got. “I will not tell you exactly which amendments because that's fairly confidential. So the third document to be signed is a formal return-to-work formula checking out the procedures of returning to work.”
Union remains optimistic
Got said the union had yet to receive word whether the government would sign the documents, but that union officials remained optimistic.
“The national advisory council remains committed, and so far we have not received any communication that those documents will not be signed.” Got said. “We are just waiting for our negotiators to brief us as when they sign, and they advise us to resume work; we already gave them our blessing, and we shall resume work.”
Governor Munya confirmed to VOA that changes were made to the previous collective bargaining agreement of 2013 in which doctors sought a pay raise of up to 180 percent. The government's offer stands at 40 percent.
Foreign doctors may be hired
Munya says the government is considering hiring foreign doctors.
“We want to start working out the process of hiring doctors from outside the country, and the minister of health is already working on that,” Munya said. The minister "has spoken to friendly countries that can provide doctors, and he is also working on the legal framework to register these doctors locally."
This is not the first time the government has announced the plan to fire doctors and bring in physicians from abroad.
The state plans to hire physicians from neighboring Tanzania as well as Cuba and India. Before that happens, an appeals court will have to rule on the matter.