By Betty Njoroge
12thÂ December 2013 marked Kenyaâ€™s 50th year as a sovereign nation. As the countdown to the birthday began some minutes before midnight, the healthcare workers (HCWs) strike entered its 3rdÂ day. This is the third strike instituted by the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union and the first time that all cadres of healthcare workers are on strike at the same time.
That means that at nearly all health facilities nationwide at the district level and below there is not a single healthcare practitioner to assist patients. These facilities are completely paralyzed and shut down. I am saying this as a matter of fact, because in the coming days you will see fabricated media reports that certain cadres of workers in some areas are back at work.
The reasons for the nationwide strike are simple. The government breached Collective Bargaining Agreement struck to implement devolution, they also illegally passed the HCWs payroll onto the County Governments without firstly creating the laws and legal framework necessary for devolution of health and they instituted a slashing of healthcare funding across the nation from a recommended 15% of government budget to a miserly 2.7% which subsequently resulted in projected expenditure of only 24-50 kshs per person per year. In totality, what the governors, senators and politicians are calling devolution is actually just an illegal slashing of HCWs salaries, nothing more.
There is no dedication of more resources so that more people get adequate healthcare.
As expected, the government ignored issues raised by the unions. In fact, this government was given 6 weeksâ€™ notice of industrial action prior to the strike. A day before the strike some governors even threatened to sack HCWs in their counties, of course forgetting that they are not the Public Service Commission and thus did not hire and cannot fire.
Speaking of Commissions, the governmentsâ€™ response to the legitimate demand to create a Health Service Commission was that it was unconstitutional according to article 234. Well, article 234 simply names other public service sector commissions it does not limit or prevent a Health Service Commission from being formed. Indeed itâ€™s utterly hypocritical for a government that is blatantly ignoring the constitutional implementation process on devolution of healthcare to even talk about the same constitution. They actually claimed that they will devolve salariesâ€™ and then later on create the laws under which salaries would be managed. How absurd!
Of course, such absurdities are a hall mark of government. Once they realized that they cannot use some random quote from the constitution they ran to the high court to get court orders to force the HCWs to end their strike. As if that was not enough, politicians in different counties have stepped up the intimidation and harassment, some even threatening to evict HCWs from government housing if they donâ€™t return to work. As I said, county governments did not hire the HCWs, they cannot fire them and they cannot evict them.
I urge the HCWs to stay resilient and not to relent in their fight for justice. It is unimaginable how horrific the healthcare sector will become under such politicking and selfish leadership especially with such drastically slashed budgets. Surely the death toll will be astronomical, when the hospitals can only afford to spend a miserly 24 ksh on your treatment!
More importantly, as we celebrate Kenyaâ€™s Jubilee anniversary, let us not forget that it is those who sacrifice their entire lives and dedicate their work to the service of the people who need to be honored the most in this country. We should not be as shallow and superficial as to call the many roads, parks, hospitals, buildings and airports named after one or two people the achievements of this land. Rather it is the people, who have committed themselves, and are enduring the most deplorable working conditions, who are our greatest achievements.
As we look forward to the next 50 years, I wish to celebrate our Healthcare workers as well as our other civil servants who indeed are heroically doing their best to keep the systems running despite the best efforts of greedy and selfish politicians to plunder the nation. Solidarity!
Read more from Betty Njoroge’s own blog here.