A general view of Kenyatta National Hospital where a brain surgery has been performed on the wrong patient, Nairobi, Mar 5, 2018.
A general view of Kenyatta National Hospital where a brain surgery has been performed on the wrong patient, Nairobi, Mar 5, 2018.

NAIROBI - A fresh strike has handicapped Kenya's largest public referral hospital for almost a week, leaving the poor to pay the price for strife and dysfunction in the country's public health system. Last year's nationwide doctors' strike shut down all public facilities for three months

Rose Ngao walked into Kenyatta National Hospital two days ago hoping she would be admitted and have an operation to remove a growth in her stomach. Two days later, she sat outside the Accidents and Emergency section of the hospital, contemplating her next move.

She said she was scheduled for surgery any day, whenever they give her a date. But now, with the strike, she said she is being asked to go to a different hospital, to Mbagathi, to get blood.

FILE - A doctor holds his stethoscope in the air a
FILE - A doctor holds his stethoscope in the air as he and other medical staff protest the detention of their union leaders, outside an appeal court in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 15, 2017.

This latest doctors' strike resulted from a horrific mistake at the hospital. Last week, a neurosurgeon opened the head of the wrong patient for brain surgery, a mix-up of identification tags saw the wrong man wheeled into the operating room.

The surgeon performing the surgery was suspended. More than 700 other doctors undergoing post-graduate training, commonly known as registrars, went on strike in a show of support for the doctor.

The doctors are demanding their colleague be reinstated immediately and for management to handle the hospital's systemic problems.

Samuel Oroko, chairman of the Kenya Medical Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), said "workers are overworked.

"Now in neurosurgery, we have three residents — one in casualty, one in theater, one in the wards," he said. "And they work 24/7, no break at all. These are human beings.These are issues. We are not saying we are protecting anybody. We are saying as a country, we need to take a complete overhaul of Kenyatta National Hospital system.

Surgeon David Kimani came to the defense of the doctors on strike, highlighting the challenges of working at Kenyatta hospital.

"You have one ICU Bed," he said. "You have three patients in need of that ICU bed. How do you choose who lives and who dies? We have only one CT scan to take care of 2,400 patients. We have an MRI that is dead."

A patient at the hospital, Jane Odhiambo, said she had to wait for hours at the hospital due to the doctor shortage. She said the poor are the ones who suffer because they do not have money to go to private hospitals.

This is the government hospital that is supposed to help the citizens, she added.

Scandals and corruption

Kenya's health system has also been mired in scandals of corruption and mismanagement. In October 2016, Kenyans were outraged when an audit revealed more than $50 million went missing from the Health Ministry.

The scandal came to light just days after President Uhuru Kenyatta expressed frustrations about the fight against graft in his government.

The Kenyatta National Hospital Board on Thursday recalled the suspension letter given to the doctor involved in the brain surgery mix-up and urged the striking doctors to resume work immediately.