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Kenya

'Go ahead and sack us,' Kenyan doctors tell government

In an interview with DW, in response to a government ultimatum that expires on Wednesday, a member of Kenya's doctors' union, Tom Mboya, said they will not resume work unless a 2013 agreement is fully implemented.

Kenya's Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) met on Tuesday morning to discuss a government ultimatum that threatens to sack thousands of medical workers if they fail to return to work by Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a Nairobi court issued arrest warrants against several senior KMPDU members for failing to turn up in court for sentencing. The country's Employment and Labor Relations court had found some KMPDU officials in contempt of court, after failing to call off the strike as ordered by Justice Hellen Wasilwa. 

The Kenyan government had filed a complaint claiming the oversaturated strike, which began in early December, was illegal.

Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)

Despite the threats, KMPDU insists they won't return to work, unless the government begins a full implementation of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed in 2013.

Tom Mboya, a medical doctor and also a KMPDU member, said these threats "simply bolstered" their position. KMPDU had informed all of its members about the imminent threat from the government. Mboya said the "the government is playing in a script, which has been already written."  

Uhuru Kenyatta (Getty Images/A.Shazly )

President Uhuru Kenyatta has refused to give in fully to doctors' demands

The Kenyan government had said it will not implement the CBA agreement because the deal has not been backed by a third party, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).

But Mboya maintained that the CBA agreement benefits not only medical practioners, but also the entire country.

"The CBA agreement is a wholesome approach which does not just focus on salary," Dr. Mboya said. "It focuses on the improvement of healthcare for both the rich and the poor. The leadership of the union has decided that this is not a battle for doctors only, but also for a better healthcare in the country."

The doctors had earlier rejected a 40 percent salary increase proposed by President Uhuru Kenyatta. The proposal was not in accordance with the terms of the CBA agreement.

Under the CBA deal, doctors were promised a 100-percent salary increase for low income earners and about 75-percent for high income staffers.

Devastating effects

The strike, which has been ongoing since early December last year, has had a devastating effect on millions of Kenyans. Many complained they have not been able to access basic healthcare facilities.

Private hospitals across the country have been overwhelmed with sick patients. Many also say cost for healthcare services and drugs have increased dramatically.

Kenyan political analyst Brian Wanyama thinks the stand off could go on for months if the government maintains its current stance. Wanyama said the crisis goes beyond the hospitals.

Kenia Ärzte Protest (Reuters/T. Mukoya)

The doctors' protests have often ended in violence

"Major medical schools, the University of Nairobi and Moi University, cannot open because the lecturers, who are also doctors, are on strike," Wanyama said.

"When we talk about 5000 doctors, we are talking about the entire medical sector in a halt. The government is towing around with the idea of hiring foreign doctors. I think such public bolstering will not work. Only common understanding and diplomacy can resolve this crisis," he added.

Wanyama thinks there is a danger of Kenya losing its doctors to foreign countries if the stalemate is not resolved.

"If you are going to sack the doctors, where are the replacements? Doctors are not like mangoes or oranges that you can pick from a tree. If you sack the doctors they are going to take their services to other countries. So who is going to suffer?" Wanyama said.

The strike, which involves doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists, has affected services in over 2,700 public health facilities, including Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, where most Kenyans seek emergency medical care.