Sunday, September 4, 2011

The tasks ahead for the new doctors’ union

Sunday Nation 04 September 2011

Last week, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union (KMPDU) was registered.

Coming on the first anniversary of the promulgation of a Constitution that guarantees labour rights to all workers, this happy event demonstrated the extent of openness that now permeates most of our sectors.

As the new union gets down to business, the members must now think of electing leaders who have the interests of the health worker at heart, and who have experienced first-hand the suffering that these professionals go through in the execution of their daily tasks.

It is my conviction that the success of this union will improve not only the lot of all health workers, but also the standards of health care delivery.

The union will provide the forum through which the government may be compelled to explain the recent policy changes that stopped funding for postgraduate students in the various medical specialties.

Escalating human resource transfer to the private sector is evidence of rampant maltreatment of these highly trained professionals, whose only demand has traditionally been reasonable working conditions as per the law.

Today’s health workers demand a proper working environment and reasonable working hours, adequate facilities for work, and commensurate remuneration for their efforts.

The fact that the entire nation trusts its health in the hands of these few individuals clearly demonstrates the importance of the work they do.

As we have argued before in this column, the time has come for the health ministries to produce legislation that will create a regulatory body bringing together all health workers’ professional licensing boards.

This body, similar to South Africa’s Health Professionals Council, would be responsible for licensing and professional regulation of all health workers, as well as setting standards for ethical and quality health care.

In the absence of such a body, the constitutional provisions on health risk being handled haphazardly, resulting in the negation of their spirit and intent. For instance, the controversial provision on abortion and the beginning of life cannot be resolved by politicians or even the courts. Only a body comprising health workers will translate this provision into a tangible and enforceable regulation.

Other areas that will need professional interpretation by a statutory body include definitions of ‘emergency medical treatment’, ‘reproductive health’ and even ‘highest attainable standard of health’ as provided for all Kenyans under the Constitution. This council will be in a position to prescribe what the minimum package of health care would meet this constitutional threshold for health rights.

In my view, the doctors’ union must position itself together with the other health professional associations such as the Kenya Medical Association in agitating for the formation of this council to safeguard the standing of the professions. In the face of official reluctance to create this body, the union must be prepared to play this role in consultation with other professional bodies.

Finally, in order to be successful as the representative of the social welfare of diverse health professionals, KMPDU must embark on a massive membership drive, and it would probably be useful to encourage all doctors employed by diverse organisations to join in order to more effectively negotiate for better working conditions, and better health for all Kenyans.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Lecturer at Moi University School of Medicine

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