Source: Nairobi Star
28th November 2011
BY RAMADHAN RAJAB
A national crisis looms large after nurses and other staff in public hospitals yesterday threatened to join the doctors’ strike planned to start on December 5. The threat paints a grim picture for over 90 per cent of Kenyans who on public hospitals for medical and health care services. This comes as Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union started mobilising their county representatives in preparation for the strike after talks between them and the government stalled last week.
According to the Kenya Union of Medical Professional and Allied Staff secretary general, Seth Panyako, they had decided to be enjoined in the doctors strike as a last option to pressure the government to register their union, improve their welfare, increase their salaries as well as equip hospitals so that they can be able to work efficiently.
He further said they will only back down if the government hires more nurses to the required international standards, as well as award their members a 600 per cent pay rise.
The pay hike will see a health worker earn about Sh18,000 from the current Sh7,000 and lowest paid nurse carry home about Sh66, 000 from monthly pay of Sh11,000 currently. “We have been despised for a long time. Our basic labour rights trampled on and our voices silenced, but we say enough is enough we have to use the only weapon we have to force the government to listen to our demands so that we can be able to serve the nation better and this is through an industrial action, the strike,” Panyako said.
The union also demanded that the government implements the proposed scheme of service for all health workers, non-practice allowance for medical professionals and immediately approve the extraneous allowance for nurses and clinical officers. “Apart from converting the over 7,000 nurses currently on contract terms to permanent and pensionable arrangements, we want the government to hire more nurses to curb the growing nurse shortage,” Panyako said adding that currently there are slightly above 17, 000 nurses countrywide with one nurse forced to attend to over 60 patients daily, instead of World Health Organization’s requirement of about six patients and this has led to overworking, culminating to compromising of health provision standards.
He said the union’s national executive council had resolved that the clinical officers, nurses, occupational therapist and other support staff whom they represent should join the strike. He decried that nurses and other hospital workers in Kenya were among the lowest paid in world leading to brain drain and low motivation.
KMPDU secretary general Dr Boniface Chitayi maintained that their strike was on as scheduled saying the government was underrating the matter. “So far whatever we have received from the government side is a basket of mixed signals, laxity, and failure to show seriousness. Though we know the consequences of our strike will be dire-as lives may be lost, on our part we have tried our level best as doctors and we have no other choice but to down our tools come Monday 5, as the government seems uninterested in addressing and concluding this problem,” Chitayi said.
As of Monday last week the ministry of public health and that of medical services, Chitayi said had told them they had sent the union’s proposal to Treasury but since then no official feedback had been received. “It appears the negotiations have become directionless, and we will only be interested in it if there are strict timelines and serious high level inter-ministerial involvement,” Chitayi said arguing that previous talks were only represented by a low level ministry of medical service and that of public health officials instead of senior officers from ministry of finance and that of public service who can be able to commit and make decisions without seeking references.
The doctors through their union are demanding that all their colleagues in public hospitals across the country be put on a new scheme of service that will see the gross salary of the lowest paid rise to Sh180, 000 up from the current Sh60, 000. He said Kenyan doctors were the lowest earners in Africa and that even the push to have a 300 per cent salary increase they will not even be at the same scale with their peers in Botswana who take home about Sh219,000 as basic salary at entry level.
In Namibia, the doctor at intern level earns a basic pay of Sh312, 000, while in South Africa he takes home Sh340,191. The highest paid doctor in Kenya — a medical specialist II — earns a gross salary of Sh130, 000 which is set to increase to Sh520, 000 if the government heeds to the union demands. A medical officer earns Sh76, 000 after one year into employment and Sh100, 000 after three years in public service where they are referred to as senior medical officers.