18 December 2011
The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union
called off the doctors' strike on Wednesday last week after some
confusion on Tuesday about whether the strike was on or off. This was done after the union membership was convinced that the
interests of the common citizen had been addressed, among other things.
Today, it is important to reflect upon the effects of this strike.
For the first time in the history of this country, a trade union
organised a strike largely with public interest at the core of it. Among
the demands the doctors' union had, the most prominent included
construction of more health facilities, equipping existing facilities,
training and hiring of more health workers and increasing government
spending on health.
The union called off the strike after the government admitted that
things were not right in the health sector and made commitments to
address the concerns raised by the union. Apart from committing to
improve the pay of doctors and other health workers, the government
agreed to form a joint task force with the union to deliberate on the
way forward in addressing the medium and long-term issues raised by the
Quite apart from the fact that the government agreed to work with the
doctors' union to improve the health sector in our country, the strike
also achieved important milestones.
Importantly, the doctors' strike exposed the rot that exists in the
health sector. Many Kenyans did not know that government expenditure on
health as a proportion of total spending had been declining over the
years. This has been happening despite our commitment to the Abuja
Declaration that bound governments to ensure that health sector
expenditure be raised to 15 per cent of that total government
The result of declining health funding has been enormous. Health
facilities have remained few and far between, and those that are
available have had neither adequate staffing nor appropriate equipment
to carry out basic functions of a health facility. There have also been
difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified manpower, with the
result that some critical health programmes in the country are solely
dependent on donor funding.
The doctors' strike also exposed the dearth of leadership in the
ministries of health. Throughout the crisis, both ministers were
conspicuously absent. Conveniently, it was reported that they had gone
abroad for treatment. How ironic that on the eve of the doctors' strike,
those that were supposed to deal with it needed to seek the services of
doctors outside the country!
Their absence, as well as the bungling display by the assistant
minister and permanent secretary in the ministry of Medical Services,
raised serious questions. By failing to provide leadership during these
critical moments, the ministers might have been communicating to
government that they agree with the doctors' union that there is a
problem in the health sector but had no power to deal with the issues
Indeed, a few days before the strike, the minister for medical
services had indicated in a newspaper column that there were forces
beyond his control that were determined that he does not achieve much in
his docket. That it took the Treasury's intervention to end the strike
may bear out this claim.
It is irresponsible to play politics with the lives of Kenyans, and the principals must act with speed to end this charade.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and
lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine www.lukoyeatwoli.com